Our Man in Havana (Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch)
Long before James Bond sipped his first vodka Martini, Graham Greene was having fun with the murky world of espionage. There's nothing like a corrupt régime on the brink of collapse to bring its profiteers into the limelight. Not to mention Our Man in Havana
The short scenes follow each other briskly in an almost filmic fashion; one senses that the cast of four could easily be caught out by the rapid costume changes which 26 characters, plus a share of the narrator, demand.
Pivot for the story is vacuum-cleaner salesman Wormold. He's not particularly successful in business and his marriage has also failed. But he loves his teenage daughter (who reciprocates his affection) and has at least one good friend, also an expatriate, Dr Hasselbacher.
Enter a bowler-hatted, pinstriped suited Man from the Ministry – not just any old Ministry but MI6. Hawthorne wants an agent to set up a network in Havana. Wormold wants to let his daughter have the horse on which she's set her heart and to clear up his ever-increasing overdraft at the bank. And no-one wants to upset the dreaded police chief Segura.
Sean Needham has the measure of Wormwold, drifting amid political, social and financial turmoil and never quite being overwhelmed by any of it. Alison Thea-Skot is a credible Molly as well as the no-nonsense but soft-hearted Beatrice sent by Whitehall to make sure that Wormold is kept up to scratch. Hasselbacher and Hawthorne give Sam Pay two good, well-contrasted roles.
And then there's Sam Kordbacheh as just about everyone else. He's suitably greasy as the assistants who make Wormold's life more tha somewhat difficult and properly sinister as Segura – not a policeman who you would want as a son-in-law, or even as a social acquaintance or chess opponent.
It's all good fun but for me it's as though all the frenetic activity cannot mask the lack of something present in both the orginal story and the 1959 film.
Our Man in Havana runs at the Queen's Theatre, Hornchurch until 22 February.