The women of Tennessee Williams' play The Night of the Iguana were in many senses ahead of their time.
Based on Williams' 1948 short story and set in 1940s Mexico, the play's central character Rev Lawrence Shannon (Clive Owen) is enveloped in a scandal. On an official break from his ministerial duties after preaching atheistic sermons, he's taken work as a tour guide but after sleeping with an underage girl on his tour, the group has turned against him.
He has retreated to a hammock at the budget hotel run by his friends Maxine (Anna Gunn) and Fred although the latter has recently died.
The hotel is perched on a cliff - a brilliantly imposing set by Rae Smith - which puts the protagonist literally and figuratively on the edge.
Here while facing off the ferocious and unrelenting tour leader Miss Fellowes (an unrecognisable Finty Williams) and the sexual advances of Maxine he finds a connection with the whispy spinster Hannah Jelkes (Lia Williams) who is travelling with her aged grandfather Nonno (Julian Glover).
Hannah is devoted to Nonno, has an inner strength and sensibility which both calms and inspires Shannon who is prone to nervous attacks and depression.
What makes her remarkable in the context of the period of the play is the fact that she is a single woman, surviving off her own talents and ingenuity and uninterested in marriage.
A breathy Lia Williams (with shades of Jean Brodie) is a quietly fearless Hannah with strong sensibilities.
Maxine is also remarkably modern in that she doesn't hide her sexual desire and talks about her sexless marriage with Fred.
Shannon, on the other hand, is in need of modern approaches to mental health. Nervous breakdowns to one side he is a man with so much self-loathing he find it difficult to accept love or compassion.
The clue is in a story he tells of having been caught masturbating as a child by his mother for which she beats him to 'save him from God's punishment'. It has obviously had a profound effect on how he views sex, the desire constantly at odds with the guilt.
It doesn't excuse his behaviour, he isn't an easily likeable character but Clive Owen balances his loathsomeness with charm and fragility. You don't know whether you want to slap him or hug him.
In the end, the tragedy of The Night of the Iguana - and arguably another modern twist - is the fact that he is ultimately just a prize at the whim of victor.
The Night of the Iguana is at the Noel Coward Theatre until 28 September and I'm giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.
It is 2 hours and 55 minutes including an interval.
Because I love Lia Williams, here are some of my favourite performances:
Mary Stuart, Almeida - who played the titular role was decided by a coin toss at the start and I got to see Lia play Mary which was what I wanted.
Oresteia, Almeida - possibly when I fell properly in love with Lia Williams.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse - Such an outstanding performance, it is in danger of infecting everything else I see her in.