The Night Of The Iguana at the Noël Coward Theatre

The Night of the Iguana -Julian Glover as Nonno and Clive Owen as Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (c) Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.
The Night of the Iguana -Julian Glover as Nonno and Clive Owen as Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon (c) Brinkhoff-Moegenburg.

It’s not exactly unheard of for reviewers to be asked for recommendations to shows by friends, acquaintances and even complete strangers (the latter, at lest in my case, usually via social media).

Another reviewer’s recommendation for a production earlier this year was suffixed with, “It’s for grown-ups”. The Night of the Iguana falls into that category: it’s more of a psychological drama than anything else, and frankly, I got the feeling it would have worked just as well as a radio play as it does as a theatrical production. There are scene changes, but everything takes place in what I took to be a courtyard within the grounds of a hotel in Mexico.

A West End production of this nature is almost inevitably going to follow the rather detailed stage directions in the script as closely as is reasonable – there must be, for instance, an “actual storm scene”. Sound effects of rain, thunder and lightning on their own just won’t cut it. So, just prior to the interval, the characters still on stage at that point in the show’s proceedings start to get wet, and mostly (I think) for dramatic effect, Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon (Clive Owen), referred to by everyone by his surname, gets drenched.

But I couldn’t help thinking that the plight of the likes of Judith Fellowes (Finty Williams) and members of her coach party in the first half of the show constitute a metaphor for the play itself: they’re not going anywhere any time soon. The play is almost all exposition – talking heads, and sometimes talking heads about talking heads – such as a hotel guest, Hannah Jelkes (Lia Williams) discussing her 97-year-old grandfather, Nonno (a very convincing and engaging Julian Glover) to hotel manager Maxine Faulk (Anna Gunn). Nonno is properly called Jonathan Coffin according to the programme, but I don’t recall this being mentioned on stage.

Some German hotel guests who make intermittent appearances – always brief – seemed very much enthused by schadenfreude. Aside from providing some comic relief, I couldn’t really see what benefit they brought to the production, and even most of the laughs during the evening (a fairly hard slog, coming in at just under three hours including intervals) came courtesy of the more central characters in any event.

The dialogue is mostly subdued – quite refreshing in some ways, a marked difference from the loud volume of many plays, old and new. It’s not exactly Little House on the Prairie – it’s not like there isn’t anybody who has a negative word for anyone else all evening, and there is some shouting from time to time: the sound (Max Pappenheim) works well, producing an echo whenever the occasion calls for it. The sounds of the outdoors in summertime help to create the right sort of atmosphere too.

Not every line was decipherable, at least not from my vantage point, and I don’t mean Maxine yelling instructions at the likes of Pedro (Daniel Chaves) and Pancho (Manuel Pacific) in Spanish. I wonder if this was deliberate, to keep the audience guessing or something. Owen’s Shannon puts in a compelling performance overall, expressing a wide range of emotions from anger at God (as interpreted by organised Western Christian religion) to treating the iguana of the show’s title with mercy and compassion.

There is, as I never seem to tire of saying, a reason why certain shows are revived less than others, and The Night of the Iguana doesn’t, as Tennessee Williams’ plays go, elicit quite the same levels of intrigue and fascination that Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire do. Oh, and there is no point in holding out hope for a fairy-tale ending in this steadily paced and reflective production.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

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.

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

85-88 St Martin’s Lane, London. WC2N 4AP
Saturday 6 July – Saturday 28 September 2019

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