Writer: William Nicholson
Director: Alastair Whatley
Reviewer: Steve Turner
William Nicholson’s Shadowlands was first presented as a television drama before transferring to the stage and then to the big screen in a film featuring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger.
Nicholson’s study of love found and then lost in later life avoids any mawkish sentimentality, delivering instead a touching, heartfelt and very moving observation of the life of writer C.S. Lewis as he meets and slowly falls in love with Joy Gresham an American fan of his work.
At first through correspondence across the Atlantic and then after meeting in Oxford, the pair are slowly drawn to each other with Lewis, the reserved Englishman almost reluctantly revealing his true emotions, while the more open and slightly brash Gresham’s feelings are more easily read.
With so much of the dialogue shared between the two main protagonists strong performances are called for and Stephen Boxer as Lewis and Amanda Ryan as Gresham don’t disappoint. Ryan’s American accent is as impeccable as her timing, delivering some delicious put downs when patronised by one of Lewis’s academic colleagues. Her outgoing personality and directness is well observed and delivered with just the right amount of restraint enabling her character to seem all the more real.
while Ryan is excellent in her role, Stephen Boxer’s portrayal of Lewis is quite magnificent. From the opening monologue to the final lines he lives and breathes this part. His delivery never falters, remaining perfectly audible even when his voice is reduced to a whisper, conveying a depth of emotion and feeling with his silences and pauses as much as with his speech. With barely a scene played without his presence this is a demanding role, yet Boxer manages, with consummate skill, to make it look effortless and perfectly natural, almost as if he’s not acting at all.
As W H ‘Warnie’ Lewis, C S Lewis’s steadfast brother, Dennis Lill portrays a kindly, sympathetic bachelor, always ready with an amusing take on things. His concerns about the motives of his brother’s American correspondent lead to an insight into the lives of the two brothers who lived in the same house together for over twenty years. His interplay with the two main characters is beautifully observed and their comic timing seems almost intuitive.
Thanks to the skill of all the cast the play comes across as a very natural work, helped by direction from Alastair Whatley that enables everything to happen at a pace that suits the atmosphere. There is a sort of languid, timeless feel to the action allowing the audience time to be drawn into the world of these intriguing characters.
Special mention must go to Alex Wardle for some superb lighting skilfully bringing to mind the title of the piece by casting parts of the set in shadows throughout, as well as echoing some of the world of the writings of CS Lewis with some nods to Narnia.
Such is the power of the writing and the performances that some of the audience were moved to tears at the finale, having been almost crying with laughter during the first act. All in all a superb, almost faultless presentation – don’t miss it.
Runs until 27 February 2016 ¦ Image: Jack Landeburg