Our Man In Havana by Graham Green adapted for stage by Clive Francis – New Wolsey Theatre and Touring
Graham Green wrote ‘Our Man in Havana’ originally as a film script based on a Spanish double agent he had come across during his work at M16 who had fooled his German handlers with misinformation that was completely fabricated. The film came to nothing but he re-wrote it as a novel set in Cuba in the last days of the Batista regime – with the Spanish and Germans replaced by the British and anticipating the Cold War missile crisis. Castro criticised the novel as being too easy on the Batista regime, but It was not so much a comment on the need for revolution, more a dig at the British Secret Service and their ineptitude.
James Wormold is an unsuccessful vacuum salesman living in Havana with his teenage daughter Millie, whose expensive desires lead him to agree to being recruited as a spy by Hawthorn. At first he is floundering but then realises if he makes up his contacts and provides any information however false or ludicrous, he will still be paid. Things get a little difficult when London sends him a secretary who threatens to expose his network of fabricated agents, and his daughter starts getting wooed by the head of the Secret Police. But then things take a more sinister turn.
This is not an easy book to stage. Adapter Clive Francis has chosen to break it up into a myriad of fast moving scenes and the hard working, four strong cast get to play multiple roles as well as their main ones. But this does mean that you get the essence of the book and the characters but a lot of the depth is missing.
It’s also difficult to know where the company wanted to pitch it. The book is humorous – but dark things happen. The play tries to mine the humour but often descends into panto with the men dressing as nuns and a stripper for instance, and at times into farce. It feels a bit forced and as though it’s all trying too hard.
Charles Davies works really hard as Wormold, Michael Onslow makes a credible Police Chief, James Dinsmore is sufficiently stuffy as Hawthorne and Isla Carter makes a good job of switching between Millie and Beatrice the secretary.
The set works really well conjuring up the feel of Havana – as does the strident soundscape – but some of the scene changes seemed unnecessary. The best prop was the conversion of a toilet into a car – and this got a clap from the audience – but a number of times for instance three airplane seats were wheeled on for the briefest of scenes on the plane- when deck chairs already on stage could have been used. There is also a lot of actors stepping out of character to play Narrator – which did break up the flow.
The best scene was the playing of a draughts game in the second half between Wormold and the Police Chief – mainly because it was a bit longer and allowed the characters and action to develop. Most of the scenes were over in a moment and left your head slightly in a whirl without adding much to the plot.
This is a clever, very slick, production – but maybe too clever for it own good. The best way to enjoy it is to suspend disbelief and just go along with it without trying to make sense of it or care too much about the characters. It is also very long – but if you are a Graham Green fan and you know the book this one is for you.