The Theatreguide.London Review
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 hope.
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 how.
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 wrote
in 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
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 spinster.
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.
The 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
Williams 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.'
It 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. The
role 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 fuller
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
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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