Jul 29th, 2019
A South American rainforest has come to London, and don't worry, I'm not referring to the Rainforest Cafe. Director James Macdonald has brought the sights and sounds of the Mexican jungle to the Noel Coward Theatre with stunning effect in this star-studded production of Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana. And thanks to some technical genius from Set Designer Rae Smith and Lighting (or should that be lightening?) Designer Neil Austin, the audience is treated to a full-scale thunderstorm with pouring rain that somehow manages to soak the cast and stage but no one in the front row. A definite rival for Miss Saigon's iconic helicopter!
The casting is brilliant and goes a long way to recreate the heat and humidity of the Central American rainforest. Anna Gunn delivers a performance that is sensual, vulnerable and desperate all at once as her attentions flit between her young Mexican helpers, Pedro and Pancho, and her long-time friend, Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon. Anything, it seems, to drown out the pain of her recently deceased husband's memory. Shannon is played by an equally steamy Clive Owen, although the aura of sensuality that surrounds him is more to do with the ghosts of his past (and one present) than any desires for Anna.
Trapped between these colliding characters are the hotel's guests, including an odd-ball German family, and a granddaughter and grandfather played by a beautifully waif-ish Lia Williams (as Hannah Jelkes) and Julian Glover (as 'Nonno'). Perhaps of all the characters, it is Williams' who challenges the audience the most. She plays the long-suffering but devoted granddaughter and tortured artist perfectly but, every now and then, reveals that she too knows how to work her audience in order to get what she needs - or what she wants. The tug-and-pull between her, Owen and Gunn is played out sublimely on the dripping, plant-filled stage.
It is a shame then that this Night of the Iguana feels more like the year of the iguana. Granted, there's not a lot either the cast or creative team can do to dramatically lighten long chunks of dialogue - especially when the work is part of the theatrical canon as this play is. However, for all the praises I've been singing of the glorious set design, perhaps not having it change at all for the play's duration is part of what makes these slower moments seem to last an eternity. Sometimes it feels like it's not only the guests who are stuck in that dilapidated hotel, waiting for the storm to break and set them free.
View our show pages for more information about The Night Of The Iguana, Noel Coward Theatre.
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