Clive Owen makes an amazing return to the West End, following an eighteen-year-long gap, in Tennessee Williams’ 1961 play (also 1964 film). Owen gives an electric performance as feverish, abusive ex-minister, Reverend T. Lawrence Shannon, who returns to a dilapidated hotel off the coast of Mexico, run by his old friend Maxine Faulk (Anna Gunn).
Lia Williams plays Hannah Jelkes, a prim, well-spoken New England watercolour artist, who tours the world with her grandfather Nonno (Julian Glover), “the world’s oldest working poet”. She is everything Rev. Shannon is not: calm, collected, kind, wise, and self-knowing. Jelkes has been able to cast off her demons; Shannon has not.
The play is three hours, and all the action takes place on a single veranda. Despite these inherent difficulties, James MacDonald’s expert direction keeps the action moving and interesting, drawing out excellent performances that ebb and flow with the tides of the ocean, helped along by one or two coups de théâtre. Creative lighting (Neil Austin) suggests the day’s suffocating heat, the oncoming night, and the approaching storm.
For all the play’s dealing with severe mental health issues — Shannon has an extended on-stage mental breakdown — the play remains surprisingly cerebral throughout, not unlike the character of Jelkes herself. As the audience, we marvel at the realism of the acting and the hyper-detailed production design (Rae Smith), but we are voyeurs.
This strictly limited season in the West End runs until 28 September 2019.