Review: Shadowlands by William Nicholson, New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich until March 19

Joy Davidman meets CS Lweis at an Oxford University event in Shadowlands which is being staged at th

Joy Davidman meets CS Lweis at an Oxford University event in Shadowlands which is being staged at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

Birdsong Productions presents a stylish production of William Nicholson’s Shadowlands, the story of CS Lewis and Joy Gresham’s extraordinary relationship and marriage, cut short by her death from cancer.

Amanda Ryan, Shannon Rewcroft, Denis Lill and Stephen Boxer in Shadowlands which is being staged at

Amanda Ryan, Shannon Rewcroft, Denis Lill and Stephen Boxer in Shadowlands which is being staged at the New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich - Credit: Archant

C.S Lewis’1950s Oxford is a musty world where Dons sit around taking port whilst pontificating and theorising about the world they have no real experience of – except what they have read in books. We watch in amazement, as if stepping into Narnia itself, at this self- contained world of white male privilege, so perfectly preserved in this play you can feel the their blood pressures collectively rise as CS Lewis begins his friendship with Joy Gresham, who ticks all the boxes for them: a woman, intellectual, Jewish, former communist and an outspoken American travelling without her husband.

Joy’s zest for life ignites something very deeply in CS Lewis and an unlikely romance begins to take seed, despite him not really noticing. The central performances of Stephen Boxer and Amanda Ryan are solid, but never quite take off. There isn’t the chemistry between their characters to make the relationship as heart breaking as it could be. Ryan plays Joy’s humour and one liners brilliantly, but next to Boxer’s quite naturalistic performance creates a characterisation that seems almost too large to feel believable.

As we move through their years together, the famous lamp post from Lion The Witch and Wardrobe is poignantly ever present, as is a mist which is pumped out continually and seems to want to indicate something magical, but was quite distracting. The non-naturalistic moments are very welcome in this piece, but needed much more definition through lighting in order to heighten the symbolism.

A full theatre is testament to the enduring appeal of this love story and important, thought provoking questions about faith and suffering underpin the play. However it is love and its power to heal in the Shadowlands of the present that is revealed to be truly extraordinary, even when compared to the magical world of Narnia itself.


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Jackie Montague

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