REVIEW: Shadowlands - Worthing’s Connaught Theatre

Shadowlands by William Nicholson
Shadowlands by William Nicholson

For those familiar with C.S. Lewis’ works, ‘Shadowlands’ will draw to mind the gentle explanation at the end of the Narnia books - this world is merely a shadow of a world beyond.

The play centres on the love story of C.S. Lewis - known as ‘Jack’ - and American divorcee Joy Gresham. It’s a simple plot line, not many frills or surprises, but pleasingly executed. Stephen Boxer (Jack) and Amanda Ryan (Joy) capture perfectly the awkward transition from acquaintance to friends and from friends to romantic love.

Don’t expect any gushing high-drama or scandalous revelations. This is an unadorned, tender and heart-felt journey from intellectual theory to personal experience.

At first glance, the production is similarly sparse. The absence of any unneccessarily complicated scene changes is a good choice, however. Instead, the drama is completely carried by the acting skills of the cast: Denis Lill in particular does a wonderfully endearing Major W.H Lewis, Jack’s brother.

The opening half moves rather slowly, methodically introducing Lewis and his teaching on the problem of pain: If God is good, why do we suffer? Literary references and citations abound, but the somewhat philosophy heavy first-half gives way to a sincere and affectionate imagining of Jack’s everyday life.

Joy’s bright, frank and witty American sensibilities quickly disrupt the Oxfordian bachelor group, with humourous results. As Jack falls in love, the stakes rise, and his convictions are put to the test.

Surprisingly moving towards the end, with lighter touches of humour and a strong cast, ‘Shadowlands’ is recommended viewing for those interested in C.S. Lewis’ life, or indeed, the line between writing about something and truly knowing it.

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