Review: The Night of the Iguana


by Mike Matthaiakis

In Tennessee Williams’s “The Night of the Iguana,” James Macdonald’s meticulous production offers a glimpse into solitude, compassion, and the human spirit. Set on the veranda of a Gulf of Mexico hotel in 1940, the play revolves around four characters at various stages of desperation. Maxine Faulk, the widowed hotel owner; the tormented Rev Shannon; the virginal artist Hannah Jelkes; and her 97-year-old grandfather, struggling to complete his final poem.

Much like Chekhov, Williams explores the theme of human endurance and presents a compassionate portrayal of four damaged souls. However, the character of Rev Shannon poses challenges, as his actions and narcissistic neurosis make him difficult to like. Clive Owen captures Shannon’s nervous intensity but fails to completely bridge the gap caused by the character’s unlikable traits.

The standout character is Hannah, portrayed by Lia Williams. She infuses the role with inner toughness and sharp wit, offering a touching acceptance of human passion’s waywardness. Anna Gunn, known for Breaking Bad, brings a radiant sensuality to Maxine, revealing her profound loneliness and jealousy. Julian Glover adds a wicked humor to the nonagenarian poet, and Finty Williams portrays a mercilessly abused vocal teacher with justified outrage.

Rae Smith’s monumental set dominated by a weather-beaten cliff and Neil Austin’s evocative lighting contribute to the play’s visual impact. While often regarded as one of Williams’s last strong works, “The Night of the Iguana” shows signs of the playwright’s decline. Some characters feel underdeveloped, and the play incorporates cartoonish elements, such as a quartet of German tourists celebrating the bombing of London. The parallel between the captive iguana and Hannah’s dying grandfather is overtly spelled out.

Despite these elements, the play endures through its opportunities for actors and Williams’s boundless charity. While it may not reach the heights of vintage Williams, “The Night of the Iguana” remains a compelling exploration of human struggles, compassion, and the complexities of the human spirit.

At Noël Coward theatre, London, until 28 September.