Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana exceeded all my expectations. An evening in a stormy, steamy village on the coast of Mexico in 1940 was the perfect setting for Clive Owen’s stormy and steamy defrocked priest Shannon, writes Michael Holland.

Now a tour guide with a coach-load of Baptist Church ladies in his charge, the lecherous Shannon rocks up at old friend Maxine’s beach hotel where Germans are celebrating the Blitzkrieg of London, a con artist and her grandfather are living on credit, and his tour passengers want him fired for the statutory rape of one of their group.

In the first half there is a lot of comedy, which surprised me as Tennessee Williams usually just makes me sweaty and itchy, and after the interval we see the unravelling of people’s lives before they begin to make sense to us. The story meanders a bit over almost 3 hours, and I was wondering where it was going on a few occasions, but it all comes nicely back together at the end.

There is a lot to be impressed with in this production: James McDonald’s direction is one; Rae Smith’s rain forest set that oozed and dripped is a major part of the play, then the performances from the main protagonists. Anna Gunn as Maxine was the easiest to read as she was the sane one just wanting to run her hotel with minimal fuss and enough money to enjoy life; and Owen’s Shannon was a little boy in the body of an unhinged man who needed to be taken care of, but it was the Hannah Jelkes character that was the most enigmatic. Was she an artist or just a con woman? Was she a virgin spinster or just a con woman? Did she really want to help Shannon or was she just a con woman? Lia Williams teased every nuance out of Hannah in a seemingly under-played performance, but which quietly became the most powerful in this hotel zoo.

In Owen’s first West End play for 18 years The Night of the Iguana drew standing ovations all round.

The Night of the Iguana is on at the NOËL COWARD THEATRE, 85-88 St Martin’s Lane, London, WC2N 4AP until 28th September. Times: Mondays – Saturdays: 7:30pm; Wednesday & Saturday matinees: 2:30pm. Admission: £17.50 – £127.25. Phone: 0844 482 5151

www.iguanawestend.com

Photos: Brinkhoff.Moegenburg