Posts Tagged ‘Graham Greene’

Prolific appears to be the word of the month, this time used to describe the output of Graham Greene, whose 79 works include novels & short stories, plays, travel, biography and films. This 1958 novel has been adapted as a film, opera, play and now musical. Set in pre-Castro Cuba, it’s a comic story centred around a vacuum cleaner salesman who turns to spying to supplement his income in support if his young daughter’s expensive lifestyle.

The salesman, Wormold, is approached by Hawthorne from MI6 and agrees to spy. Soon he realises he has nothing to pass on, so he makes things up, information London accepts. He gets ever more ambitious, sending fake drawings and diagrams of military installations, which encourages his superiors to send out a ‘secretary’ Beatrice to help him. Things escalate as invention and reality collide, and there’s an attempt on his life which results in the death of his best friend. Meanwhile he has to deal with the developing relationship between his daughter Milly and military Captain Segura, which is resolved in a game of draughts with each winning move resulting in an alcoholic shot. This latter sub-plot, and his daughter’s spending (one time she comes home having bought a horse!) stretch plausibility.

They do their best to conjure up Havana, but there are only six actor-musicians, though the inventive design by Kat Heath does help. The songs are serviceable, with appropriate Latin rhythms, but don’t really contribute much to the storytelling. The first half lags, but it does improve significantly after the interval. My problem with it is that I don’t think the material lends itself to musical theatre adaptation, and the story seems to have lost much humour in transition. Tightening and speeding up up the first half would help, but I’m not sure it would solve the problem.

It’s well staged by Abigail Pickard Price, and well performed by the six actor-musicians, and provides a pleasant enough afternoon or evening. I respect and indeed admire Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost for having a go, but it’s not (yet?) a fully formed show.

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This is the second collaboration between British musical theatre team George Stiles & Anthony Drewe and American book writers Ron Cowan & Daniel Lipman and it’s just as quintessentially British as their previous offering, Betty Blue Eyes (a musical adaptation of the Alan Bennett film A Private Function). This musical adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel isn’t as good as the previous show, but it still has much to commend it.

I rather wish I’d had an Aunt Augusta; someone to lead you astray, show you the world and encourage you to live life to the full, as she does with her somewhat old, recently retired nephew Henry Pulling. Come to think of it, I didn’t really need an Aunt Augusta. Their adventures take them from London on trains, boats and planes to Paris, Milan and Istanbul, and even further afield to Argentina and Paraguay, where she is at last reunited with her former lover Visconti. It lends itself well to musical adaptation and the songs are particularly good at emphasising the location of scenes. I wouldn’t say it was a great score, but it’s OK. The feel of the novel is maintained and the characterisations are spot on.

Patricia Hodge is perfectly cast as Aunt Augusta – stern, strong willed and more than a bit naughty. She’s not really a singer, but her sung dialogue seemed in keeping with the character. Steven Pacey also perfectly captures the conservative Henry, more than a bit dull, torn between continuing to be stuck in the mud and being led astray, but plumping for the latter in the end. In a fine supporting cast, I particularly liked Hugh Maynard’s Wordsworth, the life and soul of the party. Colin Falconer’s clever design anchors it in an old-fashioned railway station, with the band in an elevated signal box, a waiting room that moves, destination board and those iconic cast iron pillars. His costumes are great too. Christopher Luscombe’s staging benefits from the intimacy of the Minerva Theatre.

I’m not sure why it doesn’t quite sparkle, but there’s enough to make it a worthwhile adaptation and a decent night out.

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