Live for the moment
Photo by Jack Ladenburg
Theatre review by Henry Ascoli
Shadowlands, Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
This poignant, profound and heart-rending tale held the Yvonne Arnaud in thrall, proving to be a poignant personal insight into the intrinsic links between life, loss and love.
Widely regarded as one of the most extraordinary love stories of our time, ‘Shadowlands’ - based on fact – shines the spotlight on iconic author CS Lewis, who penned The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe among many others, living as distinguished, academic bachelor in Oxford.
Even from the opening exchanges, writer William Nicholson’s creative talent shines through in the strength of the dialogue and the characters’ on-stage chemistry - at once emotive and engaging.
Religion clearly plays a dominant role in shaping Lewis’s character – his views of love and life shaped by God and the religious influences all around him.
Yet his comfortable life in the confines of Oxford University is about to change beyond belief, when avid fan and amateur writer Joy Gresham and her young son Douglas enter his world forever.
Every inch of the author’s emotional journey is played out before us, the audience immersed in an enchanting tale of late blossoming love against the odds.
Yet this is far from a fairy tale romance – the emotional and physical pain endured by both Lewis and Joy is, at times, all too real, and throws a sharp focus on the harsh realities of life.
Stephen Boxer’s studious portrayal of Lewis peels back the layers of his character piece by piece, allowing the audience ever further into his world. Until the highly emotive final scenes, there is always a sense that Lewis is holding something back, and Boxer shows great understanding of this and many more of the author’s traits throughout.
Amanda Ryan proves truly enchanting, capturing every aspect of Joy’s character and her physical and emotional journey, motivated by love yet shaped by circumstance – a fine performance.
Denis Lill delivers a typically assured performance as Major WH Lewis (Warnie) – the sage yet fiercely loyal older brother content to live life at his own pace.
The energy and enthusiasm with which Shannon Rewcroft approaches the role of Douglas is befitting of the character – the young bookworm, torn away from his home, living in awe of his favourite author. In truth, Douglas could be one of any number of characters from CS Lewis novels – and in the closing moments we see the pair unite in a heart-rending moment defined by love and loss.
The beautifully-designed set immerses the audience in the author’s Oxford home - small touches of detail often playing an integral role in defining the mood and atmosphere of each scene - adding the finishing touch to a wonderful production.
If there is a single dominant message to take from the tale, it is to live for the moment – many aspects of our lives are beyond our control, but it is the darkest moments that allow us to shine brightest and step out of the shadowlands…
Shadowlands continues on the main stage at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday 27th February. To book tickets and find out more, call 01483 440000 or visit www.yvonne-arnaud.co.uk