Review: Our Man in Havana, by Graham Greene, adapted by Clive Francis, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich, until May 27

Our Man In Havana starring Charles Davies and James Dinsmore at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: DAV

Our Man In Havana starring Charles Davies and James Dinsmore at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: DAVID JOHN KING - Credit: Archant

A couple of years ago, Our Man in Havana was voted one of the top 20 espionage novels of all time. It was penned in the late 1950s at the height of The Cold War and elements of the plot form an eiry premonition of the events which led up to the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Our Man In Havana starring Charles Davies and James Dinsmore at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: DAV

Our Man In Havana starring Charles Davies and James Dinsmore at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: DAVID JOHN KING - Credit: Archant

Greene takes a more light-hearted approach and has a hapless English vacuum cleaner salesman, trying to flog electrical equipment to the Cubans, recruited by MI5 to find out what is going happening on that volatile Caribbean island.

The novel was swiftly adapted into a light-hearted Ealing style comedy starring Alec Guinness in 1959 which further cemented its comic reputation and it is this adaptation that has clearly inspired actor Clive Francis to create this stage adaptation.

It has four actors, playing multiple roles, recreating the look and feel of pre-revolutionary Cuba on stage. The show is well cast with Charles Davies making a very believable Jim Wormold, the rather ineffectual secret agent, supported by Isla Carter, James Dinsmore and Michael Onslow, swapping hats and doing some dazzlingly quick costume changes to play two dozen other characters including Wormold’s 17 year old daughter, a corrupt police chief, a suspect German doctor, a stripper, a secretary, a rival vacuum cleaner salesman and The Queen.

The set is simple – largely a desk and some chairs, set against three arches with a colourfully tiled floor and the locale is conjured up with some wonderfully atmospheric lighting. The show has a lot going for it but in the final analysis it just doesn’t work.

Our Man In Havana starring Charles Davies and James Dinsmore at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: DAV

Our Man In Havana starring Charles Davies and James Dinsmore at the New Wolsey Theatre. Picture: DAVID JOHN KING - Credit: Archant

It’s just too bitty. The scenes are incredibly short – particularly during the first act – and there is just too much moving furniture around to allow the narrative to develop. The play never gets going.

Sadly, it’s billed as a farcical comedy and this adaptation just isn’t funny enough. There weren’t many laugh out loud moments on opening night. It got a warm reception at the end but it was more ‘smile’ comedy than a full belly laugh. As a spy drama, even a comic one, there should also have been more of a sense of jeopardy. A missed opportunity.

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Andrew Clarke

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