Hollywood star Woody Harrelson (pictured) is putting his hellraising ways behind him – at least for the four weeks’ rehearsal period for The Night of the Iguana. Anthony Page’s new production of Tennessee Williams' 1961 play sees Harrelson return to the London stage for the first time since 2001’s On an Average Day, which marked his West End debut.

At a press call this morning at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, where The Night of the Iguana opens on 5 December 2005 (previews from 23 November), Harrelson told Whatsonstage.com why he’s currently living the “Spartan life of a monk”: "It’s a whole epic journey that we’re all taking during this rehearsal process and four weeks is, I think, a relatively short time to give birth to this thing. I have to give all my energy to it. Once it’s up, maybe I’ll get a little more lenient with myself.” He added, reassuringly: “Don’t worry, I’ll be a hellraiser again once we get the play up on its feet. You’ll find me down in the pub for sure.”

Set in Mexico in 1940, The Night of the Iguana revolves around defrocked clergyman T Lawrence Shannon (Harrelson). Now working as a tour guide, he brings a group of Baptists led by the straight-laced Judith Fellows (Nichola McAuliffe) to a rundown coastal hotel run by earthy widow Maxine Faulk (triple Olivier Award winner Clare Higgins). Also staying at the hotel is the spinsterish Hannah (Jenny Seagrove), who’s caring for her elderly grandfather. In 1964, Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and Deborah Kerr starred in John Huston’s film version.

Making his West End debut four years ago On an Average Day, for which he was nominated for a Whatsonstage.com Theatregoers’ Choice Best Actor Award, was the fulfilment of a life’s dream for Harrelson. “When I first started out as an actor, I was intent on just doing theatre,” he recalled today. “I was going to do theatre and then maybe do movies as well, but I never even thought about television (he first found fame as bartender Woody Boyd’ in TV’s Cheers) at the time ironically. I thought, I’m going to be a stage actor, just like I was in college. So I always had this image of going to the West End. I used to really fantasise about it. Then when it finally happened, it was everything and more that I’d hoped it would be. I’m just glad to be back.”

Harrelson turned down three other offers to do this production of The Night of the Iguana, which fulfils another long-held ambition for him. “When I was in college, my senior year, I was supposed to do this play. I read the play and then came in for rehearsal the next day and the director hands all of us a copy of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and says, for whatever reason, we’re going to be doing Cat on a Hot Tin Roof instead. I played an abysmally boring Brick, but I wanted to play Shannon. It’s somewhat redemptive that I finally get that opportunity here in the West End.”

- by Terri Paddock


Woody Harrelson & Jenny Seagrove
Woody Harrelson