Reviewer: Charlie Senate
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a mixed bag: large-scale extravaganzas with bulging production budgets and posted warnings about strobe lights; minimalist-by-necessity acts performing in storage rooms with a single spotlight and a carrier bag full of props. Everything, from the gargantuan to the garish, the electrifying to the enervating, the breathtaking to the breathtakingly bad—is on display here. And, given all the commotion—the crowds, the ubiquitous flyering, the endless queues and the never-ending conveyor belt of shows, sometimes “simple” is just what the doctor ordered.
The setting is intimate: a worn armchair, a teapot, a teacup. The audience is introduced as guests in Mr. Lewis’ Oxford home, a gaggle of American writers, deposited in the parlor, awaiting an oft-promised cup of tea. Mr. Lewis, played by David Payne, then enters, pours himself a cupand begins to speak. And that’s it. There is no artifice, no pretention—there is hardly a premise. The audience is treated, simply, to an anecdotal account of the author’s life.
That account is always charming and often fascinating. Mr. Payne brings a casual charisma to his portrayal that makes you feel as though you really are sitting in a snug English parlor, fire blazing in the hearth, listening to an interesting man say interesting things. It is the simplicity of the scene and, of course, Mr. Payne’s bonhomie, that make this show such an enjoyable change from the chaos and spectacle of the Fringe.
For a brief stretch, the show even begins to transcend, to become more than a just series of stories about a famous personality, however interesting. Mr. Lewis’ account of his time with Joy, his eventual wife and widow, touches that grander note—that common pulse that evolves a show into an experience—but does not, ultimately, play it. Instead, An Evening with CS Lewis remains, humbly, an abridged live-action biopic.
This is not so much a criticism as a clarification of what the show is not. Some Fringe performances leave an audience fighting choppy seas of heartache and riptides of introspection; An Evening with CS Lewis leaves the audience with a few interesting anecdotes to share with friends. But, it also leaves you feeling warm and calm and thoroughly satisfied. So, if you fancy a break from the bedlam and a little insight into a much-loved literary figure, An Evening with CS Lewis might just be the perfect cup of tea.
Runs until 27 August 2016