Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Our Man in Havana

Graham Greene, adapted by Clive Francis
A Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company Production.
New Victoria Theatre, Woking, and touring
(2009)

Production photo

Graham Green’s original novel was a very witty send-up of the life of a secret agent in 1950’s Cuba - a world which was very familiar to him having, in the early nineteen forties, played the spying game himself as agent 59200, - and although seemingly farcical was reputedly based on some sort of truth. Clive Francis’ version takes the original concept and sends it up so far it practically goes into orbit.

Simon Shepherd, with the luxury of playing only one character, is the hapless Wormold - a vacuum cleaner salesman in a country with frequent lapses of the electrical network - so business is not exactly booming, and with an extravagant daughter to support he jumps at the chance of becoming a British Secret Agent. Finding nothing suspicious to report he invents some Weapons of Mass Destruction and sends blown up pictures of various vacuum parts as evidence, together with the names of fictitious agents he has recruited - then things begin to go seriously wrong!

The three other performers are credited with three parts each, although I’m sure they manage about ten apiece and Richard Baron directs a show which is fast and furious non-stop comedy with so many amazingly speedy changes of clothes and characters that you have to keep your wits about you to be aware of who is who and what is what.

Ken Harrison’s brilliantly designed sets too have caught the spirit of the thing and manage almost as many changes as the cast, switching easily and with equally high speed from shop to bank, from Sloppy Joe’s bar to a Cuban beach, before zooming across the Atlantic (thoughtfully depicted by a model aeroplane and a map) to finish up in the austere head office of the Secret Service. Timing is everything in such a fast moving production and it is absolutely spot-on, with lighting and sound (Matthew Eagland and Ian Horrocks-Taylor) keeping up the pace to match, particularly effective in mime sequences with hand washing and running water - as well as the appropriate sound effects when the performers even take on the roles of ‘planes or cars.

Philip Franks is Hawthorne, the recruiting agent who begins the sequence of events, and is almost believable as he anxiously and thoroughly checks for bugs in the shop of a bemused Wormold, before bringing laughter with a sideways glance and “come with me to the Gents?” He also brings mystery, possible intrigue and genuine sadness to the role of Hasselbacher, the very correct and polite, but nervous German with memories of killing a man.

Norman Pace (of the comedy duo Hale and Pace) has his own very funny brand of comedy, but also makes an excellent job of the menacing Captain Segura, while Beth Cordingly copes exceedingly well with such diverse roles as the pert and frivolous daughter Milly, the severe and efficient Beatrice and the volatile, exotic ‘Sanchez’s Woman’.

These three also manage a stripper (with tassels), an air hostess, waiters, guitarist, nuns - even the Queen complete with corgi. I may have missed a few!

The first outing of this version of Greene’s novel was in 2007 and during that time it has obviously been a resounding success as here it is touring again and filling the New Victoria theatre to capacity. Try not to blink - you might miss something, and that would be a shame.

Touring to Brighton, Richmond and Malvern.

John Thaxter reviewed this production at Richmond

Reviewer: Sheila Connor