The production company Creative Cow has returned to Eastbourne following their successful Travels With My Aunt in 2016. There are other similarities too in that both are based on novels by Graham Greene and the adaptations feature just four actors playing a multitude of roles. Clearly a winning formula for after four days at the Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne Our Man in Havana continues on a nationwide tour.
This adaptation by Clive Francis, also responsible for the caricature on the front of the programme, was first performed in 2007. He has condensed the novel, also an iconic film starring Alec Guinness, into a fast-paced play which at times seems more like a pantomime than the witheringly accurate send-up of British intelligence services, Greene intended. And he should know having been a fully accredited spy all his life.
Set in Havana in 1958, before the Castro revolution and the Cuban missile crisis, it follows the hapless Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman who is recruited by MI5 to gather local intelligence. Unfortunately neither he, his handlers in the Foreign Office nor his teenage daughter know what he is supposed to be doing. Clearly a recipe for disaster, or farce, as it turns out. When the Whitehall mandarins mistake the working parts of a vacuum cleaner for weapons of mass destruction the parallels with the Bush/Blair fiasco, half a century later, are painfully obvious.
Charles Davies is rumpled linen-suited Wormold, a clueless ex-pat who allows the locals to run rings round him. Not least Lopez, his manservant, a Manuel from Faulty Towers lookalike, played by Michael Onslow, also the cigar-smoking, gun-toting police chief and even, in one memorable moment, Her Majesty the Queen. James Dinsmore is Hawthorne, a stiff upper-lip civil servant spymaster, as well as Hasselbacher who suddenly appears as a cross-dressed brothel madam. Isla Carter faultlessly plays all the female roles, from tantrum teenager, embryo Miss Moneypenny, to night club stripper.
Amanda Knott’s artistic direction on a Caribbean-coloured stage, supplemented by sound designer Simon Whitehorn’s eclectic choice of music provides an ever-changing range of aural images to keep the action moving. An amusing production which fizzles and simmers with some outstanding individual characterisations but never wholly catches fire.