Noel Coward Theatre, London – until 28 September 2019
Tennessee Williams hasn’t quite had a revival to rival Arthur Miller but there is something reassuring about having a Williams on in the summertime. James Macdonald is the latest director to tackle The Night of the Iguana, perhaps best known from its film adaptation starring Richard Burton , Deborah Kerr and Ava Gardner and the original Broadway production with Bette Davis. The last major London stage productions in 1992 featured Alfred Molina and Eileen Atkins and in 2005 there was a staging with Woody Harrelson.
Set in 1940s Mexico Clive Owen is Reverend Shannon has had a breakdown, which leads him to reject God and fornicate with much younger women. The Church, realising he is volatile send him away though do not defrock him. He finds himself working as a tour guide. As chaos descends on the tour party after he is accused of the statutory rape of Charlotte (Emma Canning) by the hysterical leader of the group Judith Fellowes (Finty Williams) he hides out with at his friend Fred’s boarding house.
Except Fred died last week and his widow Maxine Faulk (Anna Gunn) is now running the joint with some Mexican staff that cannot speak English and Shannon is only there because he thinks they don’t have a phone (they do), coincidentally Hannah (Lia Williams) and her grandfather (Julian Glover) have arrived with no money and needing a place to stay. What results is a love triangle and what faith and sacrifice mean.
It is an interesting production; the set from Rae Smith is stunning with incredible lighting and sound design from Neil Austin and Max Pappenheim. It is one of the few productions that would look incredible on the screen as well as on the stage. The problems stem from the fact that the three leads seem to lack chemistry. Gunn is perfectly cast as Maxine and Owen looks the part as Shannon but lacks the sex appeal. It doesn’t help that he seemingly has taken inspiration from Nicolas Cage for this performance.
Whilst Glover shines in this brief role, along with Canning and Williams as strong support Williams’ Hannah is a disappointment; her thoughtful and slow delivery which was an asset in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Mary Stuart and The Oresteia is distracting here, slowing down the pace and making the show’s currently three hour and 15 minute length seem longer.
Macdonald desperately needs to cut this production to make it palatable. Decisions to keep Glover in the spotlight seem odd too. It is a strong piece of work, the roles for older women are few and far between in theatre but it is lacking a factor to make it truly special and to keep the audience on side.
Thanks to London Theatre Direct for the tickets. You can buy tickets here https://www.londontheatredirect.com/play/350/the-night-of-the-iguana-tickets.aspx