The Night of the Iguana at Noël Coward Theatre
For his return to the London stage, Clive Owen couldn’t choose a more condensed play than The Night of the Iguana, a convoluted web of odd circumstances and complex humanity.
Lawrence Shannon (Owen) stops at a hotel with immense veranda, now managed by widow Faulk (Anna Gunn). The ex-minister of the Church brings with him an outraged all-female party with whom he has been touring around Mexico as a guide for a second-rate tourism agency. In need of some quiet to recover from his breakdown before going back to the Church – from which he was locked out over a year ago – he is drawn in by a fortunate guest of the boarding house, Hannah Jelkes (Lia Williams), who is able to stay out of the mercy of the hosts, caring for her grandfather, poet Jonathan Coffin, aka “Nonno” (Julian Glover).
There has been some very committed work in the stage design, led by Rae Smith. The recreation of the wild is enveloping: from the rain to the shadows, from the rocky walls to the creaking noises of the night. This naturalistic background blends so well that it leaves the actions isolated and exposed, the sole focal point. There are no distractions from the outside world – apart from a brief hint to the ongoing Second World War – to derail the theatregoer’s focus from the dialogue and emotional surges.
To use his own character’s favourite word, Owen is simply “fantastic”. Moving away from the more stern and straight-thinking portrayals we have been used to seeing on-screen, the actor situates his performance somewhere between mad and meditative. The tormented reverend is lively and misunderstood, inept and tormented. His feeble shivering at apt moments, with his smooth transitions between the different states of mind, are the details that sway this reviewer.
Glover is a maestro on stage who scatters brilliant moments throughout the show with his unfocused Nonno. The irreverent and vivacious Gunn cheers up the theatre with her spirited appearance.
As well as a constituting strong element of the play, the dominance of the dialogue over everything else from time to time risks becoming a low point of this production. Long sequences where talking reigns considerably slow down the pace, sending the piece into a bit of a slumber. Matters of love, lunacy and faith are discussed here: it’s a relief that they do not take the heavy form we would expect, but a looser grip would have also been beneficial. What certainly cannot go unnoticed in this staging of The Night of the Iguana is the tenderness and the open, innocent outlook on the world these characters share with the audience.
Photos: Brinkhoff Moegenburg
Night of the Iguana is at Noël Coward Theatre from 6th July until 28th September 2019. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.