Just over a year ago I visited Cuba and stayed there for two months. Havana, the capital, is a vibrant, energetic and charming city. It is a city that will surprise you at every turn, a city with many treasures just waiting to be discovered. Unfortunately I am completely unable to use any of these words to describe Our Man in Havana, a new stage adaptation of Graham Greene’s 1958 novel.
The play follows the story of James Wormold, an English vacuum cleaner salesman living in pre-revolutionary Havana. One night in a bar, he is asked by a British agent to join the secret service and spy on the Cuban government. He begrudgingly agrees after his annual wage is revealed to him. However, not wanting to get mixed up with a life of espionage, he invents some agents he has employed and a series of secret weapons of mass destruction based in his sketches of vacuum cleaner parts. What follows are his attempts to conceal his lies from the British government, with not such hilarious consequences.
Initially, the starkest problem with the play was that it completely failed to transport its audience to the place in which it was set. The set was gloomy, dark and the stage was relatively empty. Personally I associate none of the feelings these effects created with the Caribbean. At times the play did succeed in giving the feeling of seediness that Havana was so famous for in the 1950s but these moments were rare. In fact, the only time the play felt it really was in the place it was meant to be was at the end when the dark, gloomy stage leant itself perfectly to the atmosphere of London.
As the play developed it became clear that the plot, which is apparently the only remnant of Green’s novel, was dealt with clumsily and the actors struggled to play the multiple parts required of them. To add insult to my already gaping wound the accents were poor and although this was clearly meant to be a comic device, the bad characterisation just acted as distraction.
I am very fond of the theatre and I believe it to be a dying medium. Unfortunately two hours of dodgy accents, hammy acting and the failure of my cheek muscles to raise even a solitary smile mean that it is no surprise that people don’t want to pay the best part of £20 to watch something that may be bad. But I know for a fact there are a lot of very good actors, directors and writers out there waiting to be seen.