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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Night of the Iguana
Lyric Theatre Winter 2005-2006

Tennessee Williams' 1961 drama is the last of his great plays before the long, slow decline of his powers. It shares with Streetcar and Cat a rich poetic style, a sympathy for the unhappy and barely coping, and a small ray of hope that survival in a world of pain and insensitivity is possible.

And this current production conveys almost as much of the play's power and beauty as you could possibly hope for, which means that it's pretty darned good.

The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, an ex-minister reduced to running third-rate guided tours, washes up at the Mexican hotel of a friend for one of his regularly scheduled nervous breakdowns. The lusty proprietress offers him sanctuary in the form of a financial and sexual partnership, which he rejects as too great a capitulation to failure. But a travelling New England spinster guides him to the realisation that nothing that helps you make it through the night should be disdained, however imperfect.

Referring to their shared demons of panic and depression, she preaches to the preacher that 'Endurance is something that spooks and blue devils respect. And they respect all the tricks that panicky people use to outlast and outwit their panic.'

We're very much in the world of Blanche Dubois and Brick Pollitt here, and the final scene in which the two lonely travellers give each other all they have to give - a short respite from loneliness and a bit of strength to carry on - is Williams-the-poet-of-the-lost at the top of his form.

Anthony Page directs the play with a little more speed and energy than its elegiac quality often inspires in directors, with mixed results. Woody Harrelson (best known to some from the American sitcom Cheers and to others from films like Natural Born Killers) plays Shannon as manic rather than depressed, to good effect. You see his desperation while also sensing something in him that might help him carry on if rechannelled.

Clare Higgins captures Maxine's earthy no-nonsense quality, though she might give greater hints of the loneliness beneath the mask. Jenny Seagrove seems miscast as Hannah, coming across as too young and vivacious, without the gravity and core of peace that the role really needs. She also tends to rush and swallow lines that want to be savoured for their poetry and thought about for their wisdom.

John Franklyn-Robbins also plays her 97-year-old grandfather too young, though he comes into his own reciting the lovely poem that caps and encapsulates the play. Nichola McAuliffe hardly registers in the thankless role of the most unhappy member of Shannon's tour group.

Go to the play with a mental Pause button that lets you stop and appreciate what the characters say and how beautifully they say it, even if the director and actors sometimes seem determined to race past the best moments, and you will have the unmatched experience of America's greatest and most generous dramatic poet at the height of his powers.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - The Night of the Iguana - Lyric 2005