Shadowlands is the story of the iconic author CS Lewis’ life and his relationship with his wife Joy, who fought a treacherous battle with cancer.
C.S Lewis is an author and teacher at Oxford University during the 1950s. Joy, an American fan of his work flys over from New York to have tea with Lewis. Although they are complete opposites, they form a friendship that ultimately becomes a love affair. It’s a beautiful, slow burning love story that is felt deeply by the two lovers and director Alastair Whatley translates this exceptionally to the audience.
Stephen Boxer’s interpretation of the role of C.S Lewis is magnificent. His stage presence is remarkable as he delivers his dialogue fluidly, encapsulating the straightforward honesty of the role. He explores the depth of his emotions during the more poignant closing scenes which contrast to his proud, intelligent self introduced to us at the start of the play. The raw final scenes evoke a sense of powerful emotion as he displays his defencelessness and loss of ability to stay strong. His final scenes are tragic to witness as he expresses his pain and suffering through anger towards god, questioning his love for people on earth if he could force something like cancer upon them.
His relationship with Joy, played by Amanda Ryan, is an unexpected but touching romance. Ryan conveys Joy as a strong woman with exquisite wit. Her dialogue with C.S Lewis is pacy, completely absorbing the audience into their world. Joy is an animated character, with expressive movements and expressions, she speaks very forwardly with a thick New York accent, which is achieved faultlessly by Ryan. She has an impeccable balance within her characterisation, showing her audacious side yet not appearing entirely brazen.
Their relationship is touched upon by Douglas, Joy’s son played by Shannon Rewcroft who not only manages to effectively play a young boy, she also captures the innocence of the child. She portrays his shy reserved nature, who is obedient to his mother, showing a mutual respect in their relationship. This heightens in the closing scene as he pours his heart out to Lewis, breaking down his guard to reveal a vulnerable grief-stricken child.
Whilst I found the opening scenes slightly slow, the strength of the dialogue between Boxer and Ryan picked up the pace, creating an engaging performance that pulled severely on my heart strings.
Whilst the set is simple, there is a constant theme of shadows echoed throughout the performance, whether it is mentioned in the dialogue or projected on stage. Lighting designer Alex Wardle creates a visual image of shadows that reflect C.S Lewis’ most famous book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. This continuous reminder of his magical imagination sparks an underlying sense of hope throughout the play.
Shadowlands is a heartwarming yet devastating piece of theatre that draws on simplicity to display an utterly consuming story.
On at the Birmingham Rep until the 4th of June, tickets can be found here.