Set in a steamy 1950s Batista Cuba, this clever farce is a delicious sendup of the linen suit clad British spy era. Richard Baron clearly relished every twist and turn from the Graham Green novel from which this is adapted and, not wanting to miss a single wry detail, the show bounds along at a terrific pace to fit everything in.
The story follows the fortunes of Wormold, a British vacuum cleaner salesman eaking out a living in Havana. In an unlikely turn of events our clueless expat hoover agent is spotted by dapper MI6 scout Hawthorne, who gives our unlikely hero the 'tap on the shoulder' and sets him up as the local British agent.
Wormold, down on his luck financially and with a pony loving teenage daughter to fund, strikes on the idea of making up a fictional network of agents and living off their expenses. However, Whitehall soon starts to get excited about the larger than life characters and sketches of sinister looking vacuum weapons hidden deep in the Cuban mountains. Wheels are set into motion, the intrigue thickens and, with an unwelcome sinking feeling for Wormold, the wicket starts to get rather sticky for Our Man in Havana.
This is a witty show, Ealing pictures would be proud, with every British element sent up royally with relish and glee from the cast of four. Between them they cover a huwge number of characters, I counted 30, ranging from lusty strippers to Irish nuns, whitehall mandarins to sinister secret police.
Simon Shepard's Wormold is everything a dishevelled expat should be as he tries to make sense of the mess he's got himself into, while his prim secretary and convent school jail bait daughter artfully distract his attention, both played by Beth Cordingly. Norman Pace is fantastic in a barrage of outrageous roles including the delightfully wrong secret police Captain Segura, who also reminds us of the darker side of dictatorship as the state instrument of terror, complete with human skin cigarette case. Philip Franks handles may of the other roles, when not inhabiting the tweed confidence of M16 man Hawthorne, including Wormold's German friend, and target, Dr Hasselbacher and even a sleazy stripper. Great fun.
One of the things that makes this show really tick is some great use of mime, precisely timed for maximum effect as they clamber through imaginary windows one minute, flying planes the next. This slotted seamlessly into larger scenes thanks to a versatile set and sound repertoire, which sped deftly through sleazy Cuban fleshpots, vacuum cleaner conferences, Whitehall bunkers and country clubs.
A great show is this, one of the best to hit Nottingham this year. I would heartily recommend it to anyone with an inner panama hat and a fondness for gin.
Our Man in Havana runs at the Nottingham Playhouse from Thursday 15 to Saturday 24 October 2009.