Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana relishes in the sheer dumb luck of its hero Jim Wormold, a man who against all odds proves an important agent in the British Secret Service. Clive Francis’ adaptation has the look of a slick and faithful script, but like Wormold it bumbles through an inconsistently paced plot and loses the passion of Cuba along the way.
Nina Raines’ set design is colourful and lends a shabby chic charm to the streets of Havana. The simplistic style allows for easy scene changes, so seedy side-streets with brothels and gunfights can be stripped down to cater to a series of stuffy British offices. However, when it comes to bringing Cuba to life the accents are too clipped and a little RP slips out a few too many times. It’s hard to lose oneself to the atmosphere of the Caribbean whilst it still retains the cheery artifice of a theme park facade.
Under Amanda Knott’s direction, the ensemble of multirollers revolve Charles Davies’ Wormold through bars and bathrooms, casa to conflict. There’s an easy fluidity to the movement which shows careful discipline given to the blocking of scenes. The substance doesn’t live up to the style, however. A few slipped lines set aside, the humour feels too laboured and eked out giving an overall slackness to dialogue. Too often we see the action narrated even as it plays out: this conflict of show vs tell adds layers which smother the circumstantial flow of the plot.
The first half runs at an hour and twenty minutes and the second act 45 minutes, resulting in uneven pacing which rushes the play’s conclusion. The second half does pick up on the premise’s campy nature: Wormold’s imaginary sub-agents who die in very real circumstances, his weapon designs which are little more than hoover bluprints, these are both conceits which are played off with little exaggeration. The introduction of a puppet dog in one sequence shows a glimmer of absurdity which suits the scene, but at this point it feels at odds with the otherwise serious production. Too much gravity is leant to almost farcical escalation in a spy thriller which is a little too straight-laced for the tropic heat and silliness which Wormold encounters. A blanketing of sobriety can set the scene, but it can also smother the fun of Greene’s work.
Review written by Louise Jones.
Our Man in Havana is currently showing at the York Theatre Royal until Saturday 3rd June 2017. For more information on the production, visit here…