Shadowlands (review)

THE phrase “confirmed bachelor” has certain connotations these days that would have puzzled and amused author and Oxford academic CS Lewis.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 20th March 2012, 9:55 am

Jack, as he was known to his friends, lived among the gleaming spires, in a cloistered world, inhabited by fusty old dons, whose simple pleasures were the imbibing of a good port and debating God, philosophy, literature and, that most mysterious of creatures, women.

So it came as a shock that after 58 years as a confirmed bachelor Lewis, author of, among others, the Chronicles of Narnia, should finally find true love – only to have it snatched from his grasp. It was an act of such cruelty that it led him to question the very foundations of his faith.

Shadowlands is a huge undertaking for an amateur group but the Pendley Theatre Company can be credited for pulling off a splendid production of William Nicholson’s moving love story at the Court Theatre.

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Bob Theaker grasped the role of tweedy academic CS Lewis with enthusiasm, positively snug in the familiar shabby dress of a reserved and middle-aged man whose scholastic stuffiness was blown away by the arrival of a very outspoken and sparky American.

Theaker produced a dignity and grace to a challenging role that saw him on stage for almost the entire performance.

His only weakness showed when forced to display emotion. The actor, like the character he portrayed, didn’t cope well with distress.

Lewis was a man with strong Christian beliefs, who understood that God created suffering and pain as a counterbalance to caring and humanity.

“Pain is God’s megaphone to rouse a deaf world” he championed in his lectures.

He also believed that mortal life was only “a shadowlands” and that real life was to follow.

Yet his faith was tested beyond belief, when, overcome with grief, he struggled to make sense of God’s decision to rob him of his wife.

Sandy Hollinsworth-Turner as Lewis’s friend, and ultimately, wife, never faltered with a confident turn as New York poet and mother-of-two, Joy Gresham.

Gresham had been a huge fan of Lewis, becoming one of his pen-pals (seemingly his only contact with women), before meeting him over tea during a trip to England.

There were moments when the sadness of the story, and the convincing performance of the entire cast (including Lee Westlake’s admiral support as Jack’s brother, Warnie and a knock-out youngster Edmund Wilson as Douglas), brought a lump to the throat but Nicholson lightened the tone with a gutsy gallows humour that endeared you to the central characters.

This was a real treat.