Fringe Box



Review: Our Man in Havana – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 26 Apr, 2017
Updated on: 26 Apr, 2017

Charles Davies plays the main protagonist of James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman

By Ferenc Hepp

In this adaption of the famous Graham Greene novel Our Man in Havana we see a small cast of just four try to take on everything from lead roles to stage hands but for me it didn’t really come off.

Creative Cow, a touring theatre company puuting on the play, had humble beginnings. They were formed in the farmyards of Devon in 2007 by Amanda Knott, Matthew Parish and Katherine Senior.

They started performing in small spaces but grew over the years and now specialise in touring middle sized venues such as the Yvonne Arnaud. They first joined forces with the Guildford venue in 2012 with a national tour of The Rivals and Charley’s Aunt.

Our Man in Havana was first published as a novel in 1958, adapted into a film in 1959 and an opera in 1963. Clive Francis (a Chichester, National Theatre and RSC veteran) adapted the novel set in Cuba into a play in 2007 and has toured the UK several times since.

In this adaptation we see four actors do literally everything throughout. Not only playing the 33 characters between them but also changing the set between the numerous short scenes.

The stage setting is simple: three arches at the back, a patterned floor, some palm trees with lights on, a desk and some chairs. The lighting by Derek Anderson is atmospheric and works well.

I would recommend reading the novel or researching the plot in detail, in advance of watching this show, as the constant scene changes, the number of characters played by only four actors, with often not a huge amount of difference between them apart from a change of accent or a different jacket, can get very confusing.

Charles Davies plays the main protagonist of James Wormold, a vacuum cleaner salesman who gets caught up in the world of the secret intelligence service after a meeting with Hawthorne (James Dinsmore) and agrees to a job in espionage in order to try and fund the excessive demands of his daughter Milly (Isla Carter).

As a result he gets tangled up with various shady characters, a lot of whom are played by the fourth member of the company, Michael Onslow.

Davies is quite understated in his interpretation of Wormold, Onslow does well with the script he has to work with, but I found Carter’s characters not distinguishable enough.

Not knowing much about the plot in advance made it even more difficult to follow what was going on. Having seen Dinsmore in pantomime before both in Horsham and Camberley, I had confidence in his ability and that was confirmed in a lot of the scenes where he provided the well-needed humour and contrast in the piece, especially at the start of Act Two where Dinsmore dons a red dress and the four actors imaginatively form a car reminiscent of the style of the 39 Steps.

However, that was where the laughter started and ended for me and similarly for a lot of others, judging by the reaction of the audience round me. The stalls were very quiet on opening night.

The show is described as an uproarious farce, however it was far from that. The format was confusing, the story not communicated clearly enough and it did not hold my attention in either half.

Our Man in Havana may be a very interesting novel, but that is how it should have stayed, as this adaptation did not do it any justice.

Our Man in Havana runs until Saturday April 29 and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on: 01483 440000.

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Responses to Review: Our Man in Havana – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

  1. Leigh Carter Reply

    April 26, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    I also attended the opening night of Creative Cow’s adaptation of Our Man in Havana at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre last night and felt compelled to write in to disagree with the review of this excellent piece.

    I and my husband thoroughly enjoyed it and heard lots of similar views from other audience members.

    It was funny, fast paced and very easy to follow the plot even if you hadn’t read the novel (or in my case not for over 30 years!). All the actors excelled in their numerous roles and performed the scene changes with accomplished aplomb.

    Far from distracting from the action I felt the staging actually complimented the style of the performance. I am certainly urging all my friends to see it if they can and am looking forward to Creative Cows next offering.

  2. Gordon Bridger Reply

    April 27, 2017 at 7:15 pm

    I tend to agree with the review but would recommend it as a farce which is not what Graham Greene intended, of course. With only four actors their roles were not always clear and I do not think that the author would have been happy with the production.

    Nevertheless, there were some good laughs and some good acting.

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