Whilst I don’t hold the title of Theatre virgin the last performance I saw was Mary Poppins in New York, and it’s fair to say that it was YEARS ago. Pete and I frequent the cinema often, floating between The Dome and The Connaught- two incredible cinemas in Worthing, both independent and both with fascinating history. After living here for just about three years I was really excited to have an invite to the play Shadowlands so I could see something other than a film at The Connaught. As a previous Literature student I am ashamed at my lack of knowledge of C.S Lewis’ life, and the only thing I knew prior to the play was The Lion, the witch, and the wardrobe back to front.
If you have no idea what the play entails (just like me), Shadowlands is based on C.S Lewis’ relationship with Joy Gresham from start to finish. William Nicholson however explicitly states that it isn’t a documentary drama ,due to the private nature of their relationship (some parts omitted, some parts imagined). I was really grateful to learn about C.S Lewis’ religious views and teachings as it was an aspect I had never been exposed to, and yet had such a profund impact. Religion was omnipresent throughout the performance, constantly referred to and seen in relation to love and life, something I would usually avoid in performances but it was completely vital to the storyline. Nonetheless it really surprised me how it make me reassess and evaluate my own thought and actions, and I gained a new appreciation for Lewis’ beliefs.
‘I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else’
Despite losing his mother to cancer, Lewis hadn’t experienced romantic love and loss until he married Joy in 1956. Joy and Lewis introduced themselves as friends, and whilst still regarding themselves as companions Lewis agreed to enter a civil marriage to ensure Joy’s right to live in the UK. However whilst visits became increasingly frequent the pair fell in love with one another, sharing an intense appreciation for each others intellect, sense of humour and fun. Sadly nothing lasts forever, and Joy was diagnosed with bone cancer, prompting Lewis to engage in a Christian marriage at her bedside. Following the marriage Joy’s cancer went into remission, allowing the two to spend another 3 years together, including a trip to Greece which was depicted beautifully on stage, with the majority of the scene taking place on a small window sill. Amanda Ryan allows you to believe that the hot sun is beating down upon them, and at that moment you can really feel the connection between the two actors. Moments of silence are utilised perfectly, and your whole body is gripped and entranced by their movements.
Steven Boxer (C.S Lewis) plays a convincing performance and delivers the story in such a natural and believable way, you almost forget that you are watching an actor on stage and not C.S Lewis himself. Boxer’s strong and confident voice delivers Lewis’ wisdom with a fixating intensity, I could listen to him speak all day. However it wasn’t just the strong performances from Ryan and Boxer, the slick and prompt removal and exchange of props and scenery onto the stage was commendable, seamlessly incorporating it as part of the performance.
I also found the utilisation of light and sound really contributed to the plays success. From the get go ticking from the clock echoed through the theatre, and was a constant reminder of time, and most importantly the lack of with Joy and Lewis. It reminds the audience that time eventually runs out and we need to make the most of any situation, just like the two do together. As for the light the twinkling, fairy lit tree that exposes itself from the back of the set at poignant moments is to accentuate Douglas’ love and immersion into Narnia, however also is a reminder to the audience of those ‘magic’ moments shared between Clive and Joy.
In fear of dominating the review with praise for Stephen Boxer and Amanda Ryan (which is rightfully deserved FYI), the whole cast was chosen remarkably well. Denis Lill plays Major W.H Lewis (known for The Royal, Red Dwarf, Blackadder) and Jeffrey Harmer as Rev Harry Harrington (known for Romeo and Juliet, Fox on the fairway and Donkey’s years) carry the story with strong performances, but prior to the event I hadn’t actually heard of any of the actors so didn’t have expectations. As soon as I got home I found myself googling all of the actors to find out more about them and what they had been it, as I wanted more!
Since leaving The Connaught I have still been left thinking about the themes and meanings conveyed in the performance, and whilst I don’t believe in God myself, the question of why God allows suffering has remained in my thoughts. The play has encouraged me to actively learn more about Lewis and his beliefs, and not only that evaluate my own choices. I have to declare that I am an emotional person, but I didn’t see myself being close to tears from a play. For me, if it wasn’t for Boxer’s powerful monologues and harnessing silences it really wouldn’t have been as emotional as it was.
The Connaught Theatre is a beautiful venue to see plays in, and I would definitely recommend you pay it a visit if you haven’t already. Worthing might be small but the theatre really is one of the highlights and part of our history- I can’t wait to go back!
Shadowlands is still showing :
Saturday 23rd April 2:30pm and 7:30pm