Our Man in Havana, a brilliant light-hearted approach to spying


Our Man in Havana
Varscona Theatre Ensemble
Runs until Saturday, Dec. 2
Varscona Theatre
10329 – 83 Ave
Tickets: Visit http://www.varsconatheatre.com/shows

Varscona Theatre Ensemble’s inaugural production of Graham Greene’s spy spoof Our Man in Havana delivers some masterful performances and slick staging.

The set’s two-storey house with slat-covered windows, pots of leafy green plants, a clothesline hung with sheets, wooden boxes and vintage radio softly playing non-stop Latin music successfully creates the perfect ambience for 1950s Havana.

Set in pre-revolutionary Cuba when Havana was the pleasure-capital of the Caribbean and the Cold War was ramping up, Wormold, a debt-ridden vacuum cleaner salesman is recruited by the British Secret Service to spy for them. They want to know about any foreign involvement on the island. Of course, if the British are spying, so are other countries.

A single parent raising a manipulative daughter with expensive tastes, Wormold wants to fulfill her desires and accepts the lucrative offer. Unfortunately, he has no espionage training or knowledge on gathering intelligence and recruiting spies.

Having little to report but a strong desire to stay on the government payroll, he invents agents and military installations copied from vacuum cleaner parts. In a stunning turn-around, he discovers that the fictitious spies and events he dreams up turn into reality.

Written with a light touch, it’s fun to watch the fumbled deception and corruption which director Kate Ryan plays broadly. At times the situational humour comes across as more farcical than satirical, much to the audience’s delight.

The great shtick in this case is the absent-minded Wormold, Ian Leung, played by a single actor while the other 32 characters are played by three actors: Mathew Hulshof, Mark Meer and Belinda Cornish.

The latter three, who also take turns narrating the plot, are exceptionally versatile quick-change artists that don’t just swap hats or throw a towel over an arm to define character. They switch voice, posture and expression on the turn of a dime.

The multi-faceted Ian Leung as Wormold takes a devilish delight in hoodwinking the secret service while at the same time projecting a rather naive civility. Mark Meer delivers a tour de force performance in a variety of character roles that range from the swarthy, uniformed Capt. Segura, a specialist in torture and mutilation, to Wormold’s oafish, yet utterly charming personal assistant.

Mathew Hulshof is exceptional switching from Hawthorne, the stiff-upper-lip spy recruiter to the mysterious, cane-carrying Dr. Hasselbacher to a blonde-wigged stripper. And Belinda Cornish gamely morphs from Milly, the spoiled teenage daughter to Beatrice, the sharp MI6 secretary sent to assist Wormold.

At times all the cloak and dagger becomes confusing. However, the strong pacing and the actors entertaining character cameos keep the fun on high alert.

Kudos to all the production elements including Chantel Fortin’s set design, Matt Currie’s lighting design, Paul Morgan Donald’s sound design and former St. Albert resident Pat Burden’s costume design. Together they skilfully depict Cold War Havana’s anything-goes backdrop.

Kate Ryan’s production has a certain intelligence that pokes good-natured fun at world affairs, something we desperately need in these disquieting times.

Our Man in Havana runs at Varscona Theatre until Saturday, Dec. 2.



About Author

Anna Borowiecki

Anna Borowiecki joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2000. She reports on local people and events in the arts, entertainment and food industry. She also writes general news and features.