Reviewed by Wendy Mildren
William Nicholson’s Shadowlands is a powerfully written play giving an insight into approximately three years in the life of Clive Staples Lewis, the writer of the Chronicales of Narnia, among other works. It is set in Oxford, where “Jack”, as C.S. preferred to be called, was a Professor of Literature, and begins about the time he first met Joy Davidman Gresham, after corresponding with her for some time. The story follows the slowly budding romance between the two of them.
The title ‘Shadowlands’ was explained in the first scene where Jack is speaking to the audience on the subject of God’s love. He explained that we needed to experience pain in order to become perfect, and when we were given pain to deal with this was proof of God’s love. He postulated that this life was merely shadows and that we moved to a higher and better life when we died.
Brian Knott as Jack was splendid. His character was on stage for most of the performance and was extremely wordy. Knott built his character from a relatively shy and unworldly person preferring his quiet life with his brother, Warnie (David Rapkin) and his University band of men. As the play progresses we see the influence on his life and character made by his association with Joy (Bronwyn Ruciak), who he eventually comes to love very deeply. Knott was able to show the rapture he found as he experienced real happiness for the first time, and the anguish that he felt when Joy died. He showed how his faith was shaken when he actually felt deep pain for the first time. In all his performance was sterling.
Ruciak as Joy was able to portray both strength and fragility in her role. Her character dealt with Jack’s timid approach to her and was able to move him from friends to lovers. Ruciak was exceptional in her very wordy role and her dying scene produced a number of handkerchiefs to be fluttered among the audience.
Rapkin in the relatively small role of ‘Warnie’ was believable and injected warmth into the part. Andrew Horwood as Prof. Christopher Riley played his small part with gusto and delivered his few cutting lines with great precision. Rev. ‘Harry’ Harrington was played by David Lockwood and looked and played the part beautifully, especially in the last scene after Joy’s funeral. Richard Lane as Dr. Maurice Oakley as well as the priest who performs the bedside marriage of Jack and Joy, and as the waiter in Greece, made the most of his small roles. Karl McAllister, who played Douglas Gresham, Joy’s young son, did his part well. Others in the cast were Anthony Vawser, Normajeane Ohlsson and Belinda Millikan. All played their small roles well.
Vicky Horwood as the director needs to be congratulated on this seamless production. Given the restriction of the stage the action and the actors moved well. The set was efficient and with just the move of a hinged flat was able to show the audience they were in various locales. Lighting and sound were faultless. In all a powerfully moving work.