Set up a 1940s hill in the Mexican rainforest, Tennessee William’s The Night Of The Iguana tells the a day and night in the life of the deeply troubled former minister T. Lawrence Shannon.
Shannon, superbly performed by Clive Owen, is a violent man with a violent temper. We meet him as he arrives at the hotel of a friend, the unflappable Maxine Faulk, attempting to bring with him a coach-load of women for whom he is tour guide. The difficult coach-load has bought Shannon to his breaking point, and the veranda on which the whole play takes place is where he comes to sit at such times (something which Maxine informs us happened every one and a half years).
The veranda on which Shannon sits is beautiful, both in and out of the context of the play. Absolutely nothing in the set’s design requires the audience to suspend their disbelief. Detail has been liberally poured until it bursts out of the Noël Coward’s small stage and leaks onto the audience (both metaphorically and literally, as a ramshackle shower sits above the heads of those sat in the vicinity of Stalls A1).
Most entrances are from stairs set out at the front of the stage – with actors emerging from the pit onto the hilltop veranda. A family of German tourists and the hotel’s Mexican staff blur past Shannon as he sits, but it is travelling artist Hannah Jelks (Lia Williams) in whom he finds a kindred spirit.
Everything about this production is done to the letter. When Maxine chops a coconut, we get a coconut being chopped. When Shannon shouts down from the veranda, his voice echoes amongst the bird calls. When it rains, you hear a really nice rain sound and then you realise it isn’t a sound affect IT’S ACTUAL SKY WATER HITTING THE ACTUAL STAGE IN THE ACTUAL THEATRE. Simple.
This could all sound like a series of very boring directorial choices, all for the purpose of making a challenging play as unchallenging as it can be. The problem with that analysis is that these choices really do work. It feels actively like a chosen characteristic of the play on which money and time have been spent. It would be pointlessly snobbish of me to pretend that the play would’ve been better if the actors had had imaginary coconuts.
The set is both brilliantly detailed and intentionally straight-forward. It leaves you able to enjoy the incomparable performances from he cast. The Academy Award Nominee Clive Owen is, not surprisingly, magnificent. It goes without me saying. Every other member of the cast is the same. They are able to make Williams’ script burst with all the right energy.
A play set in 1940, written in 1961 and performed in 2019 obviously has it’s moments of difficulty. This was a common theme in my ‘overheard interval chatter’. Shannon’s sexual mistreatment of women (more often than not these women are minors) is glossed over by the other female characters, and to a certain extent the script in it’s entirety. We don’t really see the horrible dark behaviours that Shannon himself admits to, and the consequences are treated with a slight air of knockabout fun. However, the actors are able to reprimand the character, whilst not having the audience lose their crucial sympathy for him.
This production manages to contain enough West End spectacle, without losing any of the nuance of Williams’ dialogue. Every aspect of the production’s design and direction makes the most of every moment. Truly fantastic, I would highly recommend.
- Written by Tennessee Williams
- Directed by James Macdonald
- Cast; Alasdair Baker, Timothy Blore, Emma Canning, Karin Carlson, Daniel Chaves, Ian Drysdale, Julian Glover, Anna Gunn, Clive Owen, Manuel Pacific, Faz Singhateh, Finty Williams, Lia Williams, Penelope Woodman
- Noël Coward Theatre
- Until 28th Sept 2019
- 2:30pm and 7:30pm Running Time 2hrs 55mins including interval