Writer: William Nicholson
Director: Alastair Whatley
Reviewer: Emily Garside
Shadowlands is a two-tier play. On one hand, it is a story of love found later in life and the meeting of minds and hearts. On the other, it is a reflection on the nature of God, faith and theology. Both are engaging to watch, and fascinating to think about. However, much like a theology lecture, the questions are sometimes too big, and the delivery too dry to engage to any significant degree.
A story that began as a television dramawas first transferred to the stage in 1989 and subsequently became a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, Hopkins as the famous author and Winger as the American woman who wrote him fan letters, later fell in love with him and eventually he with her. Here, Stephen Boxer steps into the role, with Amanda Ryan as Joy Gresham.
The big question’s about life, faith and love undercutting the story of love and friendship. The play opens with a lecture from Lewis to his students asking theological and philosophical questions about the nature of God, love and faith. At several moments, Lewis stops to either lecture again or contemplate aloud these questions further. These are all interesting points raised, but ones that require either more reflection than the moment an audience is given or that might be better contextualised within the action of the play. There is much debate between both Lewis and Joy, as well as Lewis and his fellow academics, and this conversational debate raises much more interesting perspectives than the longer monologues, which feel slower and static compared to the rest of the crisper and wittier dialogue.
Much of this interesting dialogue and debate comes in the form of Joy and Lewis’ heated debates about life. Here, the drier elements and philosophical questioning that slow down the play come to life, alongside the central characters. It is here that the more dramatic or romantic moments bring Boxer’s and Ryan’s characters to life. There is a real feel of intellectual sparring and the meeting of minds these individuals had. This also makes their tender moments as a couple all the more touching. The bigger questions the play asks are also better asked and answered by Lewis’ group of Oxford intellectuals – an excellent supporting cast with Simon Shackleton, Jeffrey Harmer, Denis Lill, and Richard Holliday who offer a humorous backdrop while also giving space for further debate and questioning on everything from God and morality to Port drinking. Unfortunately, while offering a variety of interesting perspectives as characters they do tend to blend into one at times. Conversely, Shannon Rewcroft as Douglas – Joy’s son- is a standout performance, often in the background of scenes but integral to the narrative,Rewcroft does an excellent job with a challenging role, the only criticism is she and the character could have been used more.
William Nicholson has crafted a humorous and touching play that engages with the audience’s intellect as well as emotion. Although slowed down at times by asking too many big questions, it is ultimately an engaging and touching love story that the lead actors bring to life with sensitive and engaging style.
Shadowlands is a touching play that gives another dimension to well-known and loved writer CS Lewis, and also leaves an audience with much to reflect on about faith and love.
Runs until 25 June 2016 then continues to tour | Image:Jack Ladenburg