Our Man In Havana
Forge – The Vaults
Reviewed – 5th March 2020
“Spies Like Us can count on a loyal following for this, and future, productions”
Spies Like Us’ adaptation of Graham Greene’s acclaimed satirical novel is a sixty minute romp of intense physical acting that relies on split second timing, and intricate choreography. The cast of five, three men and two women, take on a variety of roles that include vacuum cleaner salesmen, country club daughters, British intelligence agents, Cuban secret policemen, airplane pilots, cabaret dancers, and mysterious German doctors. They also create planes, cars, horses—and do a lot of dancing. It’s a dazzling display of all the things humans can imitate with their bodies, assisted by various bits of a vacuum cleaner. It’s funny, as well.
If you haven’t read the novel (or seen the film starring Alec Guinness) the plot goes something like this. Vacuum cleaner salesman Jim Wormold, beset by money worries that only the parent of a teenage daughter can appreciate, agrees to work for British Intelligence as a way of earning extra money. Tasked with building a network of spies, and clueless about the actual work involved, Wormold decides to invent his network, and fake the intelligence reports. Events take a strange turn, however, when his imaginary agents are confused with real people. Soon Wormold is running around Havana trying to save their lives, assisted by the lovely Beatrice—who has been sent by his handlers in Whitehall to keep an eye on him.
Spies Like Us is a young company, formed of recent university graduates and the Young Pleasance theatre company. They cut their performing teeth at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and the Pleasance. The VAULT Festival is exactly the right place for their blend of energy and inventiveness. For Our Man in Havana, they don’t need sets, or costumes. The performers are all dressed in tan trousers and white shirts, and the only props on stage are a hat, an open suitcase and a vacuum cleaner (of course.) Director Ollie Norton Smith keeps the whole thing spinning along, and the pace barely falters throughout. He has also done a nice job of adapting Greene’s novel (assisted by Hamish Lloyd Barnes). Alex Holley plays Wormold with just the right amount of sweaty bewilderment, and Hamish Lloyd Barnes is his likeable, but bumbling British Intelligence recruiter. Tullio Campanale brings off a double act as Wormold’s friend Dr. Hasselbacker and the sinister chief of police, Captain Segura.
All in all, this is a delightful show, and if some of the fast paced choreography lacks the slick production values of a West End musical, it doesn’t matter. Spies Like Us can count on a loyal following for this, and future, productions.
Reviewed by Dominica Plummer