Review: Shadowlands, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford
Last night I saw Shadowlands at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford, and I loved it. But be prepared to take your hanky for this one. Or possibly even two.
Strangely, though, this is not a sad play; indeed, there are laugh-out-loud moments. But neither is it uplifting. It’s complex, thoughtful, and it’s utterly stunning. And by the end, I believe there wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
I didn’t know the story. I’d never seen the 1993 film version, starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, nor had I seen the original stage version. Both are award-winning (best British film at the 1994 Baftas and the Evening Standard Drama Award for best play in 1990), as is the script by William Nicholson.
It’s a superb story – moving, poignant and beautifully told – about the unfolding and unlikely romance between C S Lewis, a middle-aged Oxford don and the author of the Narnia stories, and Joy Gresham (nee Davidman), an outspoken and divorced American poet.
C S “Jack” Lewis is the archetypal 1950s English bachelor, serious and scholarly, and comfortably ensconced in a very male-dominated sphere within an Oxford college. When we first met him, he’s lecturing about love, pain, God and suffering – themes that run strongly throughout.
Stephen Boxer (Humans, The Iron Lady) is brilliant as Lewis, convincingly capturing his emotional shyness and then slowly revealing his unfolding emotions as he comes to realise first his admiration and eventually his deep love for Joy.
He lives with his ageing bachelor brother, Warnie (played wonderfully by Denis Lill), and corresponds with Joy, a spirited, highly-educated and much younger fan.
When Joy comes to England with her young son Douglas, Lewis is tempted by a meeting and it’s clear there is a strong connection. As the story unfolds, the relationship develops until Joy is diagnosed with terminal cancer and Lewis is forced to confront his feelings for her, eventually declaring, “I love you, Joy. I love you so much. You made me so happy. I didn’t know I could be so happy.”
Amanda Ryan is wonderful as Joy – strong, spirited, intelligent and quick-witted – delivering a dose of comic relief in perfect time to prevent the story slipping into sloppy sentimentality. “Back where I come from, there’s this quaint old custom. When a guy makes up his mind to marry a girl, he asks her. It’s called proposing. Did I miss it?”
The cast includes Simon Shackleton, Jeffrey Harmer, Ian Marr, and Richard Holliday as Lewis’s serious and intellectual male circle of friends, and Shannon Rewcroft as Douglas (below with Denis Lill as Warnie).
This major revival of Shadowlands, produced by Birdsong Productions, the people behind the hugely successful touring productions of Birdsong and Flare Path, opened in Guildford last night, then tours nationally ending at Richmond Theatre in July.
Shadowlands, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford until 28 Feb. Tickets £23-£34.50
Theatre Royal Windsor, 29 March-2 April. Tickets £13-£35
Ashcroft Theatre, Croydon, 4-9 April, Tickets £19.50-£29.50
Richmond Theatre, 25-30 July. Tickets £13.90-£32.90