Shadowlands tells the true, often tragic, story of the relationship between C S Lewis, the Oxbridge academic now best remembered for Narnia, and Joy Gresham, an American admirer. William Nicholson's literate script evokes wonderfully well the pleasure and the pain of this remarkable late-flowering love. The theology and the soul-searching form a rich back-drop to the unique romance of a buttoned-up, reticent Englishman in late middle age and the younger fan from New York City who sends him long letters and reads him her poetry.
Peter Drew's production moves smoothly from The Kilns, near Oxford, to a hospital ward, to Greece. The cosy “midden” of the room Jack shares with his brother Warnie is convincingly recreated stage left, with the rest of the action against black walls and drapes.
Some fine performances make for an emotional, thought-provoking evening of drama.
Lewis himself – tweeds, tie-clip and a warm, comfortable voice – is played by Neil Arbon. I'm not sure he'd cut it in the “intellectual elite” of the 50s, but he captures well the heart-searching and the anguish of the “foolish, frightened old man” as he seeks to reconcile this vale of suffering with his belief in a loving God. His key scene with the boy Douglas [an impressively confident Alex Ray – neat parting, suede shoes, comfy cardigan] is especially moving. Denis Brogan is absolutely right as the toper Warnie – double-breasted old buffer. And Heidi Bernhard-Bubb makes a poised, feisty, straight-talking poet. The awful, misogynist denizens of High Table are well suggested, particularly by Christopher Suckling as the atheist Professor Riley and Ian Pritchard-Witts as the pin-striped cleric Harrington.
Though Douglas is deprived of his Wardrobe moment, there are some telling scenes: the rain on the roof of the Register Office [and Warnie's expression as he signs his name], the grouping round the bedside for the wedding, the standard lamp, the tea-tray. The static semi-circle of academics lacks energy, perhaps, and it is a relief when Joy takes off the [superbly period] little hat that keeps her eyes in shadow.
Music is sparingly but effectively used – an eclectic playlist including Arvo Part and the sadly neglected County Durham composer John Garth.
A polished production of a compellingly moving, well-made play.