Paul T Davies reviews Our Man In Havana presented as part of the Frinton Summer Theatre Season.
Our Man in Havana.
Frinton Summer Theatre.
17 July 2018
It’s a hot Cuban night in Graham Greene’s classic story, and a hot summer night in Frinton matches the mood of the play, with wonderful mojito’s on sale and the temperature in the hall a tad humid! Set in Havana during the 1950s, the Cold War era, the play follows the fortunes of Jim Wormold, an unsuccessful Hoover salesman who is given the offer of becoming a spy. With an increasingly extravagant daughter to support and mounting debts, he takes the offer, and some of his imaginations, his “fake news”, begin the take the shape of reality.
The cast of four throw themselves wholeheartedly into the show. Charles Davies is perfectly cast as Wormold, the unlikely hero, exuding a Hugh Grant type of Englishness and handsomeness, his innocence being compromised as the tale edges into murkier waters. He is the only cast member who plays one role, the other three perform multiple parts. John D Collins epitomises the British spy Hawthorne very well, but is slightly less effective in other roles that need to be more clearly differentiated. Having Emily Tucker play Wormold’s teenage daughter Milly and Wormold’s love interest Beatrice sends out slightly confusing signals, but she has great fun in a variety of roles, particularly as an exotic dancer! The evening, however, belongs to the excellent David Ahmad who plays more roles than I could keep count of, including a wonderfully sinister chief of police.
The issues I have are mainly with the adaptation by Clive Francis. Patrick Marlowe’s production does well in bringing out the comedic aspects of the script, but can’t quite hide the fact that in places this is more of a sedate waltz than a fiery Cuban salsa. It’s a long first half of clunky exposition, and the scene changes will likely pick up pace during the week. (The play consists of very short scenes and a huge amount of scene changes which slow the action up.) The second half contains a glorious sequence featuring an escape from a seedy dance hall, and the audience are included in the joke, and the play begins to take off as it adopts a style more akin to the recent adaptation of The 39 Steps. But then it slows down again, and a climactic scene involving a game of checkers played with miniature whiskey bottles is more effective on screen in close up, and is somewhat lost on stage.
There is still much to enjoy, particularly a fine scene when Wormold’s “designs” of enemy secret weapons, inspired by vacuum cleaners, are taken seriously, but the adaptation seems unable to decide if it’s a full out farce or a tense thriller. But Frinton Summer Theatre, the last remaining repertory system in the UK, is an experience worth having, and next week it all changes to herald in Michael Morpurgo’s beautiful drama, Private Peaceful.