The widely acclaimed ex-Young Pleasance physical theatre ensemble Spies Like Us returned to the Festival Fringe this year with not only one show but two brilliant shows in an adaptation of Büchner’s Woyzeck and the return of their award winning debut Our Man in Havana, based on Graham Greene’s iconic novel. They stand out as fantastic examples of the success of the Young Pleasance and Pleasance Futures programmes.
As far as physical theatre goes in 2018, this is arguably the gold standard for storytelling.
Telling Graham Greene’s classic story of Jim Wormold, the accidental spy/occasional vacuum cleaner salesman, and the colourful characters around him, we are exhilaratingly immersed in a vibrant world of espionage, tango and blunder. The show is packed full of impressive and truly ingenious images that are massively enjoyable to see put together onstage. As far as physical theatre goes in 2018, this is arguably the gold standard for storytelling. In addition, the musical numbers are truly stand out with the dancing thrilling to watch. All of this considered, you’d be forgiven for thinking it might all be at the sacrifice of the acting and dialogue, however it is greatly gratifying to find that the acting has a pleasantly easy way to it and the conversational scenes wonderfully sharp and witty. The environment of Havana is stunningly and effectively brought to life with small touches that help to make every scene pop, such as a wonderfully lifelike dog. What shines through is a sense of just how rehearsed and tight the group is – though this is not surprising for a show already having enjoyed one run at the Fringe.
Even the smaller characters are given fantastic detail and attention; particular favourites being Lopez, the hilarious assistant, and Segura, the nefarious chief of police. The ensemble’s utilisation of props is brilliantly effective as they run about the stage creating images with all manner of vacuum cleaner parts - drawing from the backstory of Wormold’s occupation as a vacuum cleaner salesman, a magical and genius burst of inspiration. The only areas the show noticeably underperforms in are a lack of a general feeling of warmth and, at times, charisma.
The climax to the action is wonderfully conceived and executed and truly felt like a worthy culmination of the show’s build while the final scene and resolution is wonderfully satisfying. All is all, one year after its debut, Our Man in Havana is a stunningly created, carefully rehearsed and hilariously performed physical theatre stunner from Spies Like Us and just as worthy of a watch now as it was a year ago.