“You’re never too old to set another goal or to dream another dream,” the great writer C.S. Lewis once said.
Shadowlands, adapted from the television drama and award-winning film of the same name, tells the true story of Lewis realising his own dream later in life in the form of an unlikely romance with an American woman, Joy Gresham, who wrote to him to express her admiration for his works.
When the pair began their correspondence in 1950; Lewis from his Oxford home and Gresham from New York, the author was already in his fifties and a fellow of Magdalen College and Gresham was a mother of two in an abusive relationship. Despite their differences, the two were, it seems, destined to meet and Shadowlands follows the heart-warming and heart-breaking story of their time together.
Stephen Boxer is excellent as the gifted but starchy writer who despite his talents struggles to display emotion and affection, while Amanda Ryan shines as Gresham, whose personality is in many ways the opposite of Lewis’s but whose intellect more than matches his; much to his dismay and delight. At times it felt a little too much license had been taken with the contrast between Gresham’s energy and joie de vivre and the subdued Lewis with the result that the chemistry didn’t feel quite right; as if there was no connection at all rather than an unlikely one.
This improves markedly though in an increasingly touching second half as Lewis begins, tentatively, to open up. There’s no doubting this is a slow burner, perhaps a tad too slow in a rather lengthy first act, but the audience is rewarded for its patience with a very moving and poignant conclusion as the two become ever closer in the face of adversity.
There’s strong support from Denis Lill who masterfully treads the line between curmudgeon and gentleman as Lewis’s older brother Warnie. Elsewhere Simon Shackleton does a sterling job as Professor Christopher Riley; Lewis’s most sceptical contemporary. And Shannon Rewcroft transforms into Gresham’s young son Douglas with striking ease.
Having converted to Christianity from agnosticism, Lewis was a deeply religious man and the concept of an all-knowing God is an overarching theme in Shadowlands. Boxer is compelling in the scenes where Lewis borders on becoming a preacher as he explains why God allows people to experience pain and suffering; so that we are not under the illusion that ‘everything is alright’.
As Lewis experiences very real pain his own faith is shaken, but his view that the world as we know it is ‘merely shadows’ and that real life begins after we die is never shaken. This is a poignant glimpse into the life of one the greatest minds of all time and a powerful exploration of love, life, pain and faith.
Shadowlands runs until Saturday 4 June.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.