Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In On THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, Starring Clive Owen, Anna Gunn and Lia Williams
Tennessee Williams' The Night of the Iguana plays a strictly limited season at the Noël Coward Theatre. The cast is led by Golden Globe-winner Clive Owen (Closer, Children of Men) who returns to the West End as Rev. T. Lawrence Shannon for the first time in 18 years; Lia Williams (The Crown, Mary Stuart) as Hannah Jelkes; two-time Emmy Award-winner Anna Gunn (Deadwood, Breaking Bad) in her West End debut as Maxine Faulk and Julian Glover (Game of Thrones) as Nonno.
The Night Of The Iguana is directed by James Macdonald, (whose West End credits include the acclaimed recent production of Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf, The Father and The Changing Room) and is designed by Tony, Olivier and OBIE-award winning Rae Smith. Neil Austin is Lighting Designer, and Max Pappenheim is Sound Designer.
Thrown together for one eventful night that pulses with conflicting passions and a surprising edge of humour, a group of tourists including Shannon, a disgraced priest and a troubled artist Hannah arrive at a remote coastal Mexican hotel run by the beautifully sensual Maxine. One night brings them together, and will leave them forever altered. What path will they choose?
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: It's surprisingly low-key, but when you have actors of this calibre, simply swapping tales while illuminated by a transcendent shaft of light, it becomes spellbinding theatre. Seeing Lia Williams' cool, patrician Hannah gradually open up, just enough to meet Shannon at his most sensitive, is mesmeric, and rather than hammering us with bombast, it draws the audience in.
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: Owen, 54, remains devilishly handsome (the role was played by Richard Burton in the 1964 film) but compensates for the wholesomeness of his tanned good looks with tellingly trembling drinker's hands and an aura of incipient breakdown. A panting opening rant reveals that Shannon has left an all-female coachload of Baptists up a hillside in Mexico and retired, with consummate unprofessionalism, to the veranda of the cheap hotel (run by a recently widowed friend) he has booked for the party, having pocketed the bus-key.
Lucinda Everett, WhatsOnStage: Anna Gunn (best known as Breaking Bad's Skyler White) makes an impressive West End debut as Faulk - a tangle of grief and desire, toughness and heart, all barely disguised by lascivious bravado and an easy laugh. Julian Glover's Nonno, gentle and cheery, even as his failing mind sabotages his art, is quietly moving. And Clive Owen, returning to the West End stage for the first time in 18 years, gives an arrestingly physical performance as Shannon.
Aleks Sierz, theartsdesk: Neil Austin and Max Pappenheim's lighting and music create both the terror of tropical storms and the almost religious shafts of illumination. The play's central conflict between individual self-understanding and mindless conformism, as well as the contrast between the fantastic and the realistic, comes across more and more strongly as the three-hour evening progresses.
Michael Billington, Guardian: It is all very well done. Yet, while this is often described as Williams's last really good play, it carries intimations of his decline. It is full of underdeveloped characters, including a quartet of cartoonish German tourists noisily rejoicing in the bombing of London.
Claire Allfree, Metro: Jelkes and Shannon find a moving intimacy, based on understanding each other's loneliness. He is out-manoeuvred when he tries to sexually intimidate her, and his plea that they travel onwards together in chaste companionship has a palpable, urgent poignancy. But this is not Owen's greatest performance. Truth be told, it's not Williams's greatest play, either.
Dominic Maxwell, The Times: Owen is a fiercer presence when tied up in a hammock than when roaming free, Lia Williams takes the dramatic strain, opening up about her sexless life and showing Shannon compassion, and the evening starts to cast the kind of spell it needed earlier. It's too late to buy into the symbolism when it comes - Shannon nips under the decking to free a tethered iguana with a machete - but at least the mood finally moves from snoozy to simmering.
Natasha Tripney, The Stage: James Macdonald's atmospheric production spends the first half building towards a spectacularly staged, if inevitable, thunderstorm. Rain cascades down Rae Smith's rugged mountain set, as Neil Austin's lightning flashes across the rickety cabanas. It's the slow-burning second half that contains the play's most emotionally rich moments. The scene in which Williams describes a small, sordid exchange with a masturbatory Australian salesman as if it were one of the most tender encounters of her life is astonishingly moving.
Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: This is only the second major London staging of this middle-rank Williams play since 1992 but its core message - that kindness and dignity matter, even to lost souls - feels pretty refreshing right now.
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: Williams's seethingly weird human stew is hair-raising stuff; compassionate, cruel, macabre and intense, pepped up by shot after shot of tar-black humour. It has a terrifically entertaining cast, led from the front by a gonzo Owen, funny and frazzled and playing the role (and I mean this as a compliment) very much as one might imagine Nicolas Cage might play it. And Smith's set is a thing of wonder, like a gigantic extra character, vivid and huge and disconcertingly believable, a portal to another time and place.