"Love, anguish, fragility sensitively portrayed"
by Jill Lawrie for remotegoat on 05/05/19

Continuing this year’s theme of relationships the season opener at the Chichester Festival Theatre is “Shadowlands” by William Nicholson, initially a TV drama, adapted for the stage and in 1993 a film starring Anthony Hopkins. This leisurely multi award winning play traces the developing real-life relationship between the celebrated Oxford don C S Lewis and forthright, outspoken American poet Joy Gresham.

Lewis (known as Jack) tragically lost his own mother to cancer when he was just 10 years old and the ensuing emotional repression left him and his brother Warnie living quiet bachelor lives together in a male dominated academic environment. What begins as trans-Atlantic correspondence develops into a slow-burning love affair when Joy leaves her abusive husband and settles in Oxford with her young son Douglas. Over time this platonic friendship starts to blossom but tragedy looms when Joy is diagnosed with advanced terminal bone cancer. Their faith and strict Christian doctrines are severely challenged by Joy’s impending demise and Jack’s new found emotions. A period of remission precedes the inevitable which leaves the emotionally frightened man heartbroken. The only two women in his life both so cruelly taken prematurely by the agony of cancer.

Rachel Kavanagh directs this poignant tear-jerker with Hugh Bonneville taking the lead role. Peter McKintosh’s imposing set seamlessly slides into a wonderful, albeit brief, glimpse of Narnia, but relies heavily on continual placements and removal of furniture which although subtly manoeuvred, become somewhat distracting.
Young Eddie Martin as Joy’s son Douglas gives a fine portrayal of the obedient, subdued 1950’s child and Andrew Havill skilfully handles the character of quiet middle-aged Warnie, Jack’s unassuming elder brother. He struggles to understand Jack’s new found feelings but gives full support in whatever way he can. Bonneville, much-loved for his many TV and film appearances, embraces the intensely moving but emotionally retarded theologian ~ C S Lewis. His emotional reticence from the start gradually melting to allow this passionate divorcee to turn his ordered domestic routine upside down. Liz White superbly captures the excitable and spirited Joy Gresham from the outset stoically bearing her cruel illness and stark future so bravely.

A sympathetic production highlighting the anguish and fragility of a late-flowering love affair.

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