Review: Shadowlands, by William Nicholson, Birdsong Productions in association with The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds until July 16

Amanda Ryan as Joy Davidman and Stephen Boxer as CS Lewis in Shadowlands. Credit Jack Ladenburg

Amanda Ryan as Joy Davidman and Stephen Boxer as CS Lewis in Shadowlands. Credit Jack Ladenburg - Credit: Archant

“What will you do when I die?”

“What will you do when I die?”

“I don’t know.”

These two lines hold the audience in hushed silence at The Theatre Royal in Bury St Edmunds on Monday night.

Shadowlands, by William Nicholson, is a story told many times over but which still has the power to move.


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It tells of the blooming friendship between an American divorcee and poet Joy Davidman and the famed author of the Narnia series CS Lewis.

What follows is a moving, humbling but oddly life-affirming story of love and loss.

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Stephen Boxer played the starring role of CS Lewis superbly, holding the audience in his grip as he slipped between witty one-liners and humbling insights.

Playing opposite him, Amanda Ryan as Joy Davidman was equally great as the American who first communicates with Lewis with letters but whom he and his brother later meet at a hotel in Oxford over tea.

As Major WH Lewis, Denis Lill comes very close to stealing the show as Lewis’ brother, with a twitch of his moustache or throwaway line able to bring either joy or sadness to suit the moment.

It is very much a play of two halves as the first focuses on the community of Oxford dons of which Lewis is part. It opens with an effective scene of him lecturing students on love, pain and suffering – a theme to which he later returns as his Christianity is tested in the harshest way possible.

Although not a comedy, there are throwaway lines and jokes that have the Theatre Royal’s audience chuckling, often thanks to the impeccable timing of the cast.

The scenery is simple yet effective, as wheeled backdrops are moved around to recreate Lewis’ home, the college, Joy’s new Oxford home and later a hospital.

The second half is more sombre as time suddenly becomes precious and every moment more poignant. Both halves are equally moving.

In educational terms, the first half plays out like hearing the theory of love and loss with the second half as the practical demonstration.

Both equally emotional, and both equally well done.

The touring production from Birdsong Productions in association with The Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, directed by Alastair Whatley, is at the Theatre Royal every night until Saturday, plus matinee performances today and Saturday.

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