Writer: William Nicholson
Director: Alastair Whatley
Reviewer: Jo Payne
Based on some true events and with the surrounding circumstances imagined by writer, William Nicholson, Shadowlands tells the story of beloved author C.S. Lewis in his later years. Known to his friends as Jack, Lewis is a bachelor who is invited to tea by a fan with whom he has been corresponding. His empty heart becomes a full and then heavy one as he meets and befriends New Yorker, Joy, and her son, Douglas.
Shadowlands offers a fascinating insight into the life of C.S. Lewis. Not only are the Chronicles of Narnia referenced throughout but Lewis’ philosophies and beliefs are also addressed. As the plot unfolds, his internal battles and contradictions, particularly regarding God and prayer, are shared and deliberated. With love as its main theme, the story has pain and suffering as unfortunate and heart-breaking side-notes.
While being a true and serious story, Nicholson has scattered some quips and puns throughout the script. These provide light relief among the heavier subject matters often discussed. Dropped into a masculine circle of old friends, Joy’s feminist lines allow her bold and blunt nature to shine, much to the delight of the female audience members. The script cleverly builds the dynamics of the relationships between many of the characters, making it natural for the audience to empathise as their situations change.
Delivering Nicholson’s sharp script are an impressive cast of actors who bring these characters effortlessly to life. Stephen Boxer (C.S. Lewis) brings strength and sensitivity to a character which the audience may think they know. His realisation of love is pure and personal monologues come naturally. Opposite him, Amanda Ryan plays Joy with cheek, vulnerability and courage. Together, they are a perfect pair to bring Jack and Joy to the stage. They are regularly joined by others from the cast of ten, with Shannon Rewcroft (Douglas) and Denis Lill (Warnie) providing support as charming family members.
The set moves seamlessly between houses, halls and hospitals. Its wooden panels creak and groan; adding to the authenticity of 1950s Oxford. Narnia fans will be relieved to see the magical land featured behind the set and used to explore the fantastical child’s viewpoint of certain events in the story. Subtle lighting changes and sound effects frequently reflect the script and location.
To some, this story is a new insight into the life of a familiar name. However, to fans of the movie version, this is an irresistible retelling. From the chuckles and smiles at the start to the tears and pain in the end, this production is a skilfully-executed reminder of the fragility of life and importance of love.
Runs until 23 April 2016 ¦ Image: Contributed