(Seen at the afternoon performance on 10th August 2019). Written some two
years after "Sweet Bird Of Youth," this lesser-seen autobiographical work is
given a stunningly designed right into the orchestra pit set (Rae Smith), and
sweeping direction (James MacDonald)
in a full-on West End revival.
Truly transported to a dreary Mexican mountain hotel, over three hours we become
engrossed in the defeated lives of those who exist there either by choice,
necessity or simply having the keys to their coach confiscated.
Widow Maxine (Penelope Woodman, in for absent Anna Gunn) presides. Apparently
only her second performance in the role (and a little loud in the first scene)
she settles quickly into a deep study mixture of quiet determination, grief and
dissatisfied drunken lust. Her young male staff Pedro and Pancho (Daniel Chaves
and Manuel Pacific - efficient debuts, both) are gophers and probably more when
Taking refuge from his awful Texan tour-group and his own passionate
inclinations, locked-out but not de-frocked priest Shannon (Clive Owen) is the
centre of Maxine's attention, even though he prefers them far younger. Owen
never allows the character's state of permanently self-indulging indolence to
become one-note, and his final scene with travelling artist (literal and perhaps
slightly con) Hannah (Lia Williams) is a master-class from both.
Lia Williams never disappoints, and her response to his touch is a single
perfect stage moment for the history books, their monologues almost equally so.
Poet grandfather Nonno (Julian Glover), Hannah's travelling companion and
guardian, is another wonderful study; his triumph at completing a poem, and the
closing moment a final tenderness.
There's also some nice work in the smaller roles. Indignant Judith (Flinty
Williams) as tour party leader bent on righteous revenge, mislead young
Charlotte (Emma Canning - a nicely-judged confused innocent) and guide Hank (Faz
Singhateh) more restrained than Shannon deserves) in particular. The loud German
contingent including Wofgang (Timothy Blore) and Frau Fahrenkoph (Mufrida Hayes
- another good understudy debut) are also chilling in their attitudes to a war
taking place half a world away.
The play itself is less focussed than the best Williams. The emotional
highlights are less nakedly underlined, less critically examined within the
text. Yet, there's still his lyricism - "some take a pill, some a drink, I take
a few deep breaths." For those willing to put in the effort, the metaphor of the iguana
tied beneath the veranda - and what becomes of it - reveal just as considerable
amount about the human condition as any of his earlier masterful works.
Probably never going to be done any better, this is worth taking a chance to see
while it is available.