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Production shot for Our Man in Havana by Spies Like Us Theatre Company
Credit: Spies Like Us

Our Man in Havana, Pleasance Courtyard – Review

Pros: A perfectly executed adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, with endlessly inventive choreography and the best use of a vacuum cleaner you’ll ever see on stage.

Cons: None – it’s a solid all-rounder.

Pros: A perfectly executed adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel, with endlessly inventive choreography and the best use of a vacuum cleaner you’ll ever see on stage. Cons: None – it’s a solid all-rounder. Have you ever seen a vacuum cleaner become a coat stand, a bar, a phone and a dog? All these are possible, and many more transformations too, in Our Man in Havana, by Spies Like Us. Here, the household prop, which is sold by a vacuum salesman turned accidental British spy, has as many ingenious uses as there are laughs in this comedy. As a Graham…

Summary

Rating

Unmissable

Five actors bring Cuba and London to life with incredible comic timing and choreographed moves. A real treat from a talented young cast; this wouldn’t be out of place in the West End.

User Rating: 4.21 ( 7 votes)
Have you ever seen a vacuum cleaner become a coat stand, a bar, a phone and a dog? All these are possible, and many more transformations too, in Our Man in Havana, by Spies Like Us. Here, the household prop, which is sold by a vacuum salesman turned accidental British spy, has as many ingenious uses as there are laughs in this comedy.

As a Graham Greene fan, I had been prepared to encounter a play that drifted far from the text of his novel – something that several film and stage adaptations of Greene’s work have done. But this production is about 90% faithful, only trimming elements that can’t be squeezed into an hour, like explaining cipher codes. Some modern notes are thrown into the script for good measure (Wormold, worried about being poisoned, turns down food, claiming he’s a vegan and can only eat gluten-free).

What’s left is the backbone of the story, with its sleazy and dangerous Cuban policeman, Captain Segura (Tullio Campanale, utterly hilarious), plus uber-posh British agent, Hawthorne (Hamish Lloyd Barnes), recruiting our reluctant hero, vacuum salesman, Jim Wormold (a spirited Alex Holley). The only trouble is, Wormold wants a quiet life, drinking with his friend, Dr Hasselbacher, and keeping his high-maintenance daughter, Milly, happy (played by Campanale and Rosa Collier, respectively). He doesn’t know about spying, so he invents his contacts and flummoxes his new secretary (Phoebe Campbell). The thing is, his fictional tales begin to come true.

The plot is confusing on paper, but the cast of five can nail multiple characters in a matter of minutes, despite all wearing the same costume: the cream trousers, brown belt and white shirt of ‘Our Man’. The fierce choreography of the piece, well-executed on such a small stage and under hot lights, adds polish and punctuates the action: country club hobbies are quickly illustrated, as are nightclub dances. London scenes are hilariously gloomy and grumpy, with the vacuum cleaner becoming a tube train and Big Ben. Despite the cast consisting of scarily young actors who have to deal with quick changes of accent and movement at a moment’s notice, nobody puts a foot wrong, and even the older characters are ably played. If you liked The 39 Steps in the West End, you’ll know what a small cast can do when given the right tools.

Spies Like Us has social media accounts, but no website; it was, however picked as the Pleasance’s XYP company. I beg them to show off their talent with an increased web presence. Our Man in Havana is competing with thousands of other Fringe shows, but it deserves to transfer so  that more of us can get into the spirit(s) of espionage under the Cuban sun.

Original Author: Graham Greene
Adapted By: Ollie Norton-Smith and Hamish Lloyd Barnes
Director: Ollie Norton-Smith
Producers: Heather Rose and Ollie Norton-Smith
Box Office: 020 7609 1800
Booking Link: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/our-man-havana
Booking Until: 28 August 2017

About Polly Allen

Polly Allen
Polly Allen is a freelance lifestyle journalist based in Sussex, but often found in London. Her earliest memory of theatre was a Postman Pat stage show; she's since progressed to enjoying drama, comedy and musicals without children's TV themes. Her favourite plays include Hangmen by Martin McDonagh, and A Woman Killed with Kindness by Thomas Heywood.