08 August 2019, The Tablet

Animal magic

Animal magic

Anna Gunn as Maxine in Night of the Iguana
Photo: Brinkhoff Moegenburg


The Night of the Iguana
Noël Coward Theatre, London

Trafalgar Studios, London

Although libraries love to sub-categorise, there is no Dewey Decimal Classification for dramas about people who construct their own religions. However, to this very niche genre belong two popular plays from the middle stretch of the twentieth century, coincidentally revived.

The Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, in Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana (1961), is a Baptist minister sacked by his congregation for “fornication and heresy”, the former involving parishioners and the latter a sermon suggesting that Christianity viewed God as a “senile delinquent”. This thinking, it’s clear, may have been swayed by drinking.

When we meet him, at a motel in the Mexican mountains, Shannon has found employment as a tour guide for busloads exploring beyond the US’s southern border. But, in his new job, he has sinned more grievously both sexually – seducing a 16-year-old girl on the latest tour, courting a charge of statutory rape – and theologically, preaching a personal faith involving a sort of meteorological God, who shows himself through wind, sun and rain. In their version, director James Macdonald and designer Rae Smith summon a fiercely authentic storm, in which Clive Owen’s Shannon, face raised to the torrent, conducts an ecstatic self-baptism.

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