21 February 2011

Our Man in Havana: Fast, furious, funny and sharp as a tack

After playing the evil Sheriff Rodney Hyde (with a “y”) in Robin Hood, the Pantomime earlier this year, actor Jeff Kingsford-Brown will now take a turn in the ‘thrilling spy-spoof’ Our Man in Havana. He tells drama on the waterfront all about this “rollercoaster ride of a play”.

DOTW: What is the story of Our Man in Havana?

JKB: Our Man in Havana is the story of Jim Wormold, Expat Englishman and struggling vacuum salesman living in Havana, Cuba in the last days of the Batista regime, who is recruited by the British Secret Service. Even though Wormold is entirely unsuited to the cloak and dagger world of spies, secrets and lies, he allows himself to get involved because, as he puts it, he ‘needs the money’. While Jim thinks it is relatively harmless making up fictitious agents and imaginary top secret military bases, just to keep the SS happy, things start to go awry when an informant Wormold thought he has made up turns out to be real after all and is gunned down by the ‘other side’. As things spiral further and further out of control and then his closest friends is also assassinated, Wormold has to make some hard decisions about his role in the murky world of espionage and counter espionage.

DOTW: What can you tell us about your character(s)?

JKB: Jim Wormold is and Englishman in his late 40s whose marriage has broken down some time back, but has a 16-year-old daughter Milly, who he brings up in the Catholic faith (because he promised her mother he would just before she ran off with an American). He spoils Milly rotten and as a result his meager wage as a vacuum cleaner salesman is never enough. So he has this huge constant financial pressure on him, so when the British Secret Service approach him, even though Wormold thinks the whole thing is ridiculous and has not the slightest idea how to go about being a spy, he reluctantly agrees to become part of the spy network. But it is harder than it looks, and he finally takes the advice of his best friend, Mr Hasselback, and starts ‘making stuff up’ and receiving large sums of money. In order to justify his increasing demands for money, Wormold concocts an outrageous scenario.

DOTW: I understand that most of the cast plays a number of different characters; what has the rehearsal process been like so far?

JKB: One of the challenges of this piece, because of its multi-character nature, is to achieve precision in segueing from one character to another, using gesture, voice, costume to achieve that transition theatrically. While I mostly play Wormold, I also play the chief of the intelligence agency back in London, so it been interesting differentiating between the two. One second I’m the Chief, a gruff old spymaster in his late 60s, and the next Wormold, a very self-effacing chap indeed.

DOTW: What has been the most challenging aspect of this show?

JKB: To be perfectly honest, so far it’s been getting on top of the lines, its just an enormous challenge. I’m also only off stage for one scene in the entire piece so it’s a real test of stamina, making sure your energy is there from start to finish and getting the rhythm firmly established. The challenge is to make the character move believably from ineffective vacuum cleaner salesman to cold-blooded killer by the end.

DOTW: What has it been like to work with director, Ross Jolly?

JKB: Ross is just bursting with creative ideas both for the play and the characters, with a strong sense of the style required by this piece. Of course, having done a fair bit of stage-work in his time, he has a really great feel for what works and what doesn’t work, on the floor.

DOTW: Finally, what can audiences expect from Our Man in Havana?

JKB: A rollercoaster ride of a play, fast, furious, funny and a sharp as a tack, the sounds, the looks of 1950s pre-Castro Cuba with its brothels and casinos, agents, con-men and hookers lurking around every second street corner.

Our Man in Havana runs in Circa One from 25 February to 26 March. Tickets are available at the Circa Box Office: 1 Taranaki Street, 801-7992, www.circa.co.nz

Colourful Cuba Dress Up Night, Friday 4 March
Come along to Our Man in Havana as a colourful Cuban character:
Spy - Exotic Dancer - Policeman - Pimp - Hooker - Castro - You Decide!
It's a dangerous time, so dress to kill and spike your evening with colourful Cuban cocktails. Spot prizes for the daring and the exotic.

Book your tickets on 801-7992 or go online at www.circa.co.nz

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