It’s not top secret that Varscona Theatre Ensemble’s Our Man in Havana is a must-see
As the Mueller investigation marches forth, and the spectre of Russia looms large, the freshly minted Varscona Theatre Ensemble adaptation of Our Man in Havana is as topical as it is hilarious.
Set in a pre-revolutionary Cuba, the Cold War-era farce follows Jim Wormold, an aptly named vacuum cleaner salesman who finds himself recruited by MI6 to help spy on the Soviet interests infiltrating the Caribbean.
Grossly incompetent and desperate for money, Wormold uses this opportunity to invent agents and bilk the secret service out of compensation for the imaginary recruits.
The play is indeed a product of its time, leaning heavily on the formulas laid out by other satires of the era. This being said, it is no-less brilliant—the rapid fire delivery, zany antics, and ubiquitous cases of mistaken identity are all welcome in what is undoubtedly one of the best shows in Edmonton.
While a lot of the humour is pointed at two now-defunct governments—Batista’s and the Soviet’s—the humour finds new life in our ability to laugh at the absurd measures organizations like MI6 and the CIA took to ensure protection against an elusive Soviet influence (think American Made for the British).
The promotional materials boast a cast of four that can successfully fill all 32 parts in the show—a colossal risk that was here rewarded by standing ovations.
The cast is, to say the least, magnificent, each of them a master of accents, physical comedy, and character development. Despite the lack of major costume changes (the most daunting seems to be someone trading their blazer for a Cuban officer’s tunic), at no point was there any level of confusion as to which character was on stage.
Mark Meer proves decidedly versatile in his ability to conjure characters through facial expressions and gait alone.
However, true credit ought to go to Paul Morgan Donald and Chantel Fortin, the production’s sound and set designer, respectively. The multipurpose set is deceptively simple—scene changes take seconds and we’re able to jump from the vibrant and jazzy streets of Havana to the dingy basements of MI6 as fast as the lighting crew can dim the pot lamps. Sound aids made it easy for the cast to mime Donald’s score.
The only real criticism to lob at Our Man in Havana, and an admittedly thin one at that, is with the costuming—while Pat Burden has assembled some striking outfits for our characters to wear, Mr. Hawthorne (our link to MI6) wears a suit that seems out of place for the era, with bellbottoms and lapels befitting the late ‘70s.
But, most people won’t care about this. And why should they?
Our Man in Havana is a brilliant adaptation that is an absolute must-see during its nine-day run. It’s perfect for those interested in comedy, the Cold War, and escaping the implications that the world of Russian spies and espionage is alive and well beyond our southern border.
Until Sat., Dec. 2
Our Man in Havana