REVIEW: Our Man in Havana at Buxton Opera House
Graham Greene served in MI6 during the Second World War and encountered an agent who made up reports to bolster his expense claims. Greene made use of
this experience for what eventually became a novel published in 1958.
The setting in Cuba is almost incidental but Greene – who was essentially writing a satire about intelligence networks in general, and British operations in particular – felt that Havana was a suitable backdrop for the absurdities of the Cold War.
Clive Francis adapted the novel for the stage in 2007 but this production by Creative Cow – which began a three month tour in Buxton – remains sprightly
fun. Francis is – for the most part – faithful to Greene’s story and characters, and the complex tale is vividly told by a cast of just four who change roles,
costumes and accents at the drop of a hat.
Jim Wormold (Charles Davies) sells vacuum cleaners. He is making little money. His 16 year-old daughter, Milly (Isla Carter) wants a horse for a birthday present. A British intelligence agent, Hawthorne (James Dinsmore) recruits Wormold – who honestly doubts that is up to the task, but he needs the money.
Wormold finds he has nothing to report to London and a German friend – Dr Hasselbacher – encourages him to ‘dream more.’
The fourth member of the energetic cast is Michael Onslow who is mostly employed as a Cuban police officer or Captain Segura – one of Wormold’s agents who exists in real life and whose identity is stolen.
Once Wormold begins inventing agents and faking reports to claim more and more in expenses he finds events rapidly spinning out of control. Life becomes
more complex when London send him a secretary, Beatrice, to help run the ‘office’. How does he keep his secrets from her?
Whilst this is played for laughs – and there are plenty of them – there are some more serious points to be made. Dr Hasselbacher observes that he needed no
training to kill a man but six years at medical school were required for him to save a life – and at the end of that he could not be sure that his intervention was decisive. It is also the doctor that argues that dreaming (invention) may be necessary - “reality in our century is not something to be faced.”
Jim Wormold is no James Bond but despite his incompetence and the political and military damage he causes things turn out all right for him. This cynical
conclusion is probably one that Greene intended.
Amanda Knott – who is the creative heart of the company – directs with precision and purpose and the play is excellently served by the design team of Nina Raines, Derek Anderson and Simon Whitehorn. Our Man in Havana is produced by Creative Cow in collaboration with Malvern Theatres and Buxton Opera House.
The production opened at Buxton Opera House last week when it ran until Saturday, April 22, and is touring England until July.