The adjective “steamy” is often used to describe the plays of Tennessee Williams, as they lift the lid on simmering passions and heated exchanges in sub-tropical settings.
The Night of the Iguana, set in a run-down coastal town in the Mexican rainforest, is no exception. It’s hard enough to keep your cool in such a climate, and with the arrival of Lawrence Shannon, played by Clive Owen, things soon start to get heated. This handsome rogue is looking to find a place to hide, after seducing a seventeen-year-old.
Fearing that this illicit affair will cost him his job as a tour guide, Shannon seeks refuge with some old friends who run a hotel. Here, he finds that Maxine Faulk (Anna Gunn) has been recently widowed and left to run the place on her own. There’s history between the two of them, and plenty of chemistry, as they exchange banter looking back on old times and bemoaning their current problems.
A new arrival at the hotel, artist Hannah Jelkes, (Lia Williams) is, by contrast, an oasis of calm. In fact, she’s so good at keeping her emotions in check that we never really get to see them fully unleashed. She forms a close bond with Shannon, but their relationship stays firmly in the friends’ zone. When Shannon gets too close for comfort, she shies away from physical intimacy, and he is evidently a man who prefers friends with benefits. A weakness for women has led this former priest, now defrocked, to many a fall from grace.
Hannah is accompanying her grandfather, (Julian Glover) a poet who has reached the ripe old age of 97 and is clearly not long for this world. The question is whether he will manage to finish his final poem before breathing his last. When he does so, his recitation is so drawn out that the scene sits uncomfortably between comedy and
Directed by James Macdonald, the production is awash with symbolism surrounding water and its cleansing properties, reprising a theme from Williams’ previous work, notably the emotionally-charged shower scene in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. A beach-side shower becomes the focal point for a comedy turn involving a family of German tourists, but the show-stopper comes in the form of a full-on tropical rainstorm which drenches Rae Smith’s dramatic mountain-top set just before the interval.
As for the iguana of the title, it is captured and tied up awaiting its fate, drawing a parallel with the plight of Shannon, who at one point is trussed in a hammock for his own safety as he teeters on the verge of a mental breakdown.
“Who cares about an iguana – expect another iguana?” asks Maxine. The audience do care about the iguana, trapped, fearful and destined for the cooking pot, so when Shannon takes pity on the poor creature and finally sets it free, this act of mercy at least adds a note of optimism and hope for the salvation of this band of misfits, and for mankind in general.
Review by Angela Lord
In the strange limbo of 1940, on a dilapidated hotel verandah perched high in a rainforest above the west coast of Mexico, a group of lost souls collide – a defrocked priest turned tourist guide, the grieving widow who runs the hotel, a family of jubilant Nazis and an itinerant portrait artist with her 97-year-old poet grandfather. The result is an epic battle between flesh and spirit, captivity and freedom, art and faith, heightened by a tropical rain-storm.
Clive Owen (Closer, Children of Men) as Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon; Lia Williams (The Crown, Mary Stuart) as Hannah Jelkes; Anna Gunn (Deadwood, Breaking Bad) in her West End debut as Maxine Faulk and Julian Glover (Game of Thrones) as Nonno.
Alasdair Baker (The Bear, The Strangers) as Herr Fahrenkopf; Timothy Blore (Edward II, Ghost About the House) as Wolfgang; Emma Canning (Heart in Cardio, Towers) as Charlotte Goodall; Karin Carlson (Ladies in Waiting) as Hilda; Ian Drysdale (Network) as Jake Latta; Manuel Pacific (West Side Story, The Most Amazing Story Ever Sung) as Pancho; Faz Singhateh (Henry V) as Hank; Finty Williams (A Pack of Lies, The Divide) as Miss Fellowes, and Penelope Woodman (The Last Ship, Mary Poppins) as Frau Fahrenkopf. Madeleine Day, Mufrida Hayes, Andrew McDonald and David Young complete the company.
THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA
Written by Tennessee Williams
Directed by James Macdonald
Set & Costume Design by Rae Smith
Lighting Design by Neil Austin
Sound Design by Max Pappenheim
Casting by Amy Ball
Fight Directors – Rachel Bown-Williams and Ruth Cooper-Brown of RC-Annie Ltd
Dialect Coach – Nia Lynn
Associate Director – Ilinca Radulian
Associate Designer – Mike Lees
Lighting Associate – Jamie Platt
NOËL COWARD THEATRE
85-88 St Martin’s Lane, London. WC2N 4AP
Saturday 6 July – Saturday 28 September 2019