The Theatreguide.London Review
The Night Of The Iguana
Noel Coward Theatre Summer 2019
One of Tennessee
Williams's less-often revived plays, but for my money one of his
best, The Night Of The Iguana explores some of the playwright's
signature concerns with what might be surprising delicacy and quiet
Like most of Williams's
plays, it is ultimately about the
question of whether the fragile and sensitive can survive in a harsh
world, but this time his answer is Yes, and he offers guidance on
The Reverend T. Lawrence
Shannon, all but defrocked and reduced
to running third-rate guided tours of Mexico, arrives at the hotel of
an old friend for one of his regularly scheduled nervous breakdowns.
The old friend has died,
but his lusty widow Maxine offers Shannon
the option of taking his place, a choice he rejects as being beneath
him. But an encounter with travelling New England spinster Hannah
teaches him that nothing that helps you function and survive should
be rejected out of false pride.
The same playwright who
Orpheus Descending 'We are all of us sentenced to a life of solitary
confinements in our own skins.' can here let Hannah say 'We all wind
up with something or with someone, and if it's someone and not just
something we're lucky, perhaps unusually lucky.'
The play is
structured to lead up to the almost Shavian discussion between
Shannon and Hannah, an extended scene that contains some of
Williams's most movingly poetic dialogue.
In this new production
director James MacDonald sensitively keeps the focus where it
belongs, on Shannon's desperation, Maxine's less obvious but just as
real loneliness and Hannah's quiet strength.
Clive Owen shows Shannon
almost literally bouncing off the walls with uncontrollable frantic
energy clearly generated by pain and panic. Anna Gunn could afford to
be earthier and sexier, to clarify the contrast between her and the
almost sexless Hannah – though, to be fair, the role is
underwritten as Williams is obviously more interested in the
Hannah is the plum role
in the play, and Lia Williams grabs
it and doesn't let go. Her Hannah is a little younger and less
dessicated than other actresses have played the woman, a Blanche
DuBois with unexpected and necessary-to-explore strength.
playwright gives her a dry humour, which the actress makes the most
of, her understated zingers repeatedly cutting through Shannon's
sometimes self-indulgent histrionics.
At the same time, Lia
lets us see that Hannah is as fragile at the core as the others, and
appreciate the effort and determination it takes for her to carry on.
Speaking of the demons she shares with Shannon, Hannah says
'Endurance is something that spooks and blue devils respect.'
requires no spoiler alert to say that at the end it will be Hannah
who carries on alone, and Lia Williams makes us see that she will,
but also how much it will cost her.
The play is not perfect.
of Maxine is, as I said, woefully underwritten, as is Hannah's
grandfather, a dying poet struggling to complete his final poem (a
lovely one, about the need for courage). Both characters deserved
Things are a little too
obviously structured just
to get Shannon and Hannah together for the discussion scene, and all
the minor characters are there just to give the impression that
something is going on while the play is waiting for the big
But that big scene, and much of what leads up to it, ranks with the best of Tennessee Williams, which is to say with the best of American drama, and indeed twentieth-century drama anywhere.
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