Royal National Theatre (Lyttelton), London SE1
Opened 6 February, 1992

Bob Crowley's verdant set boasts a climbable coconut-palm, a genuinely wet thunderstorm and a few discreet fireflies. Apart from the recently widowed Maxine's hotel, all is impenetrable foliage, focusing and concentrating the tensions within this inescapable space. The not-quite-defrocked Reverend Shannon will never return to his West Virginia flock, the world's oldest practising poet will never live to recite his last verses anywhere else. Director Richard Eyre and his cast control the intensity beautifully, as the veneer of each is eroded.

Alfred Molina's Shannon feels his initial Chandleresque sardonicism disintegrate until his facility with words is all that keeps him standing, and the mark of sincerity is an incomplete sentence. Maxine (Frances Barber) rinds her twanging Texan bonhomie (bonfemie?) an insufficient barricade against encroaching spiritual vegetation. Elleen Atkins's Hannah Jelkes is a remarkable creation, the more successful for refusing to knuckle under Tennessee Williams's vision of her: scarcely saintly, not at all ethereal, this is a woman who knows that her only resource is herself. Her astringent evenness without pride or shame, ambition, desire or regret is paradoxically the most moving element of the evening. During the long, crucial Hannah-Shannon duologue, thin writing lost the audience, but Atkins and Molina's luminous performances triumphantly regained them.

It's no doubt a myth that the Brits do Williams better than the Americans, but on the strength of Eyre's Iguana it's easy to see how that myth survives.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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