Our Man in Havana

Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

26/02/2011 - 26/03/2011

Production Details

Thrilling high-octane spy spoof 

A wonderfully funny, fast and furious adaptation of Graham Greene’s bestselling comic novel, Our Man in Havana is set against the backdrop of the colourful and seedy underworld of 1950s Cuba and takes aim at the absurdity of the British Secret Service and the spying game. And Greene knew what he was talking about – it has recently been revealed that he was an MI6 agent for nearly 50 years! 

Jim Wormold, an under-employed vacuum cleaner salesman, is struggling to pay for his teenage daughter’s increasingly extravagant lifestyle. So when the British Secret Service asks him to become their ‘man in Havana’ he can’t afford to say no. There’s just one problem … he doesn’t know anything! To avoid suspicion, he begins to recruit non-existent agents, concocting a series of hilariously intricate fictions. But he soon finds himself in a disastrous spot of bother when his stories turn out to be closer to the truth than he could have ever imagined.

Starring: Jeff Kingsford-Brown, Jessica Robinson, Simon Vincent and John Wraight. 

Performed by 4 amazing actors playing over 30 roles (in the style of The 39 Steps), this talented bunch play everything from the menacing Captain Segura, Wormald’s daughter Milly, the German Dr Hasselbacher and the SIS mandarins to nuns, strippers, brothel madams, and the richly assorted citizens of Havana that get caught up in Wormald’s volatile and exotic fantasy.

Circa Theatre
1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
26th FEB – 26th March
$25 SPECIALS – Friday 25 February – 8pm;   Sunday 27 February – 4pm
AFTER SHOW FORUM – Tuesday 1 March
COLOURFUL CUBA Dress-up Night – Friday 4 March
Performance times:
Tuesday & Wednesday – 6.30pm
Thursday, Friday, Saturday – 8pm
Sunday – 4pm
Ticket Prices:
Adults – $46; Concessions – $38;
Friends of Circa – $33; Under 25s – $25;
Groups 6+ – $39
Circa Theatre,            1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992 | www.circa.co.nz 

PROUD SPONSOR: The Dominion Post 

Wormald, The Chief, Narrator. 

Hawthorne, Tourist, Sister, Hasselbacher, Sergeant, Teresa, Sanchez, Waiter, Narrator.

Lopez, Bank Teller, Barman, Pimp, Rev Mother, Consular Official, Ethel, Policeman, Segura, Restaurant Waiter, Teresa’s Pimp, Drinks Waiter, Carter, The Queen, Narrator.

Milly, Tourist, Pimp, Miss Jenkinson, Beatrice, Sanchez Woman, Air Hostess, MacDougall, Stripper, Narrator.

Lighting Design:  PHILLIP DEXTER

Stage Manager: Eric Gardiner
Technical Operator: Isaac Heron
Sound: Andrew Downes, Ross Jolly
Video Design: Rob Ormsby, Annie Lowe
Asst SM: Shannon Bliss*
*By arrangement with NZ College of Performing Arts

Publicity: Claire Treloar
Graphic Design: Rose Miller, Toolbox
Photography: Stephen A’Court
House Manager: Suzanne Blackburn
Box Office Manager: Linda Wilson 

Missing the point?

Review by John Smythe 27th Feb 2011

Google Wormald and you’ll find they’ve been specialists in fire protection since 1889. But you wouldn’t turn to Graham Greene’s Wormald – the protagonist of Our Man in Havana (1958) – for any sort of protection. Quite the opposite: he attracts danger. 

A thriller, described by Greene as “an entertainment”, Our Man in Havana is something of a cautionary tale: be careful what you lie about because some of it may come true and people may die. 

Not long before it would become fashionable to ‘rip off the system (cf. Yippies), Greene’s failing British vacuum cleaner retailer in Havana allows himself to get sucked into the world of espionage to satisfy the demands of his 16 year-old daughter Millie and realise his own dream of being able to afford to retire back to Britain. And so the intrigues begin … 

Adapted for stage by Clive Francis, it is billed in Circa’s publicity flyer as a “thrilling high-octane spy spoof … performed by 4 actors playing over 30 roles in the style of The 39 Steps,” the Patrick Barlow adaptation of which, directed by Peter Hambleton in 2009, I described as “utter jolly trivia in the style of Michael Palin & Terry Jones’ Ripping Yarns, with a whiff of the Goon Show.” But Our Man in Havanais more a satire than a spoof and as such it has a point to make. At least I think it does. 

There is serious jeopardy for Wormald when his ruse for securing a better income is in danger of being exposed, and double-edged outcomes as the coincidences that save his bacon become more and more lethal for others. And of course the tension created by this jeopardy should be a powerful progenitor of comedy.

What undermines its potential most is the Francis adaptation, which retains far too much explanatory narration. Telling us what we can already see robs us of the thrill of discovery – as essential in a thriller as in comedy – and lulls us into a passive state. Perhaps it is inevitable, then, that in this Ross Jolly-directed production, the telling overshadows the showing and constantly subverts the few opportunities the characters have to ‘be’ in their moments.

Yet despite the visible action being over-explained, Wormald’s web of deceit remains too tangled for us to discern to what extent he may be actively responsible for the lethal violence in which he becomes embroiled. This, surely, is the key question we should feel moved to answer, yet there is little evidence the script and/or the production is concerned with that enquiry.  

Nevertheless most of the actors do a splendid job of delineating the characters and slipping betwixt them, aided by the excellence of Gillie Coxill’s costuming, Phillip Dexter’s lighting and John Hodgkins’ set which incorporates and evocative array of backdrop images collatred by Rob Ormsby and Annie Lowe.  

Jeff Kingsford-Brown gives an adequate account of Wormald but could mine the fear and guilt factors more to engage our greater empathy. Although he seems vocally limited to a tenor range, he makes enough of a physical change in The Chief, back in London, to avoid any confusion.  

With 15 characters, plus the share of narrating all are lumbered with, moustachioed Simon Vincent excels through complete physical and vocal transformations. With the sloppy Lopez at one extreme and the menacing police chief Segura at the other, he nails the lot, tagging it all with a Queen that witty blends HRH QEII with a hint of Freddie Mercury.  

Jessica Robinson, who excels at accents, delivers nine beautifully formed characters, interleaving a highly credible Millie and very real Miss Jenkins, the secretary from head office, with a series of broadly drawn cameos.  

Likewise John Wraight has fun with some of his eight characters while grounding the story in its complex realities with his Herr Hasselbacher and the enigmatic Hawthorne from head office.

This production could evolve in two ways as the season progresses. Either its dramatic comedy-of-jeopardy values will come onto stronger focus or it will descend into being played for cheap laughs. I won’t try to guess which way it will go but I do know which I’d prefer.
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