REVIEW: OUR MAN IN HAVANA (Yvonne Arnaud Theatre) ★★★★

Our Man in Havana Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Cuba has become the tourist destination of 2017. Since Fidel Castro‘s death, people are flocking to visit the country before it ‘gets Trumped’, to see the famous classic cars, smoke Habanos and drink Mojitos.

However, despite today’s sudden nostalgia for 1950’s Havana, Graham Greene‘s novel looks at the real Cuba that was, whilst also giving an interesting insight into the Britain that was.

Wormold (Charles Davies) is a British vacuum cleaner salesman, living in Cuba. An odd mix perhaps, but unsurprisingly he doesn’t sell many of the things. His wife ran off with an American and it’s just him and his demanding teenage daughter Milly (Isla Carter). Life could be better, but it could also be worse. So when he is propositioned in a lavatory by not-so-secret agent Hawthorne (James Dinsmore), he’s reluctant to say the least. However, he reassesses once the money is mentioned and he gradually realises that he does have a talent after all. Unfortunately not for spying, but for creative writing…

Greene’s story is an amusing one, and Clive Francis‘s adaptation of Our Man in Havana is reminiscent of The 39 Steps: a reluctant hero, cross-dressing, a car made out of all sorts and just four actors. Yet, while it is similar, it stands out in its own right and fans of the book won’t be disappointed.

The piece moves quickly, with part narration, part performance and the odd, very discreet nod to the audience. Dialogue is fast-paced, funny and engaging, with slick character changes from the four actors. The cast have strong chemistry and they feed off each other’s energy, giving an added dimension to the performance.

Davies embodies Wormold well, his nervous hopelessness replaced by smug incredulity and then terrified confusion as he plays out his saga. Carter switches effortlessly from daughter to love interest, her girlish wiles replaced with womanly maturity with just a slight amend to the hair and costume, while Dinsmore portrays posh British spy, followed by cabaret dancer without batting an eyelash (although no doubt the feather boa helped). Michael Onslow makes up the ensemble, with impeccable timing, a great sense of humour and excellent body language.

Considering the small cast, the attention to detail is impeccable with a plethora of props and some excellent drawings of (what may possibly be but there is no proof) weapons of mass destruction. Or the inner workings of a vacuum cleaner. Who knows?

Yet for all the farcical elements, Our Man in Havana is a tasteful, intelligent and mesmerising interpretation of Greene’s well-loved novel.

Reviewed by Michaela Clement-Hayes