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Shadowlands review at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford – ‘touching performances’

Shannon Rewcroft and Denis Lill in Shadowlands at Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford. Photo: Jack Ladenburg

Birdsong Productions and the Yvonne Arnaud in Guildford have teamed up to present William Nicholson’s heart-breaking drama based on CS Lewis’ relationship with the American divorcee Joy Gresham.  Familiar to many from both television and movie adaptations, the power of Nicholson’s stage play rests not solely on the chemistry between Lewis and Gresham but also on the effect their tentative romance has on those around them.

Alastair Whatley’s direction catches this keenly, using an ensemble from outset to populate halls and teashops of 1950s Oxford. It’s a defiantly masculine conclave and the arrival of Amanda Ryan’s abrasive, outspoken Joy prompts mistrust or misogyny from the dons. Stephen Boxer’s shy, contemplative Lewis can’t help but be attracted by both Joy’s intellect and independence and a very British courtship ensues, exploring the nature of love and faith through their own acute experiences of pain and suffering. The relationship is wholly convincing and Boxer clarifies Lewis’ Damascene enlightenment with an innate, character-defining honesty.

Despite the weight of these themes, Whatley’s design (in association with Anne-Marie Woodley) and direction has a lightness of touch that helps balance the play. It is characterised by Denis Lill’s playful, adroitly observed old-duffer Major ‘Warnie’ Lewis and Ryan’s cool resilience in the face of Simon Shackleton’s haughty Professor Riley. An earnest Shannon Rewcroft cross-dressing to play Joy’s bookish son Douglas might have worked better had it been a walk-on but Douglas’ role is vital to the play’s perspective and appears to serve the needs of the tour rather than the play. But this is only a minor distraction in an otherwise stylish and moving production.

Verdict
Touring production of a heart-breaking play well-served by touching performances

Production Information

Production
Shadowlands
Venue
Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
City
Guildford
Starts
February 18, 2016
Ends
February 27, then touring until July 30, 2016
Press night
February 26, 2016
Authors
William Nicholson
Director
Alastair Whatley
Set
Anne-Marie Woodley, Alastair Whatley
Lighting
Alex Wardle
Sound
Dominic Bilkey
Technical
Paul Williams
Stage manager
Ian Slater (company stage manager), Lauren Barclay (deputy stage manager)
Cast includes
Stephen Boxer, Amanda Ryan, Denis Lill, Simon Shackleton, Shannon Rewcroft, Jeffrey Harmer
Producer
Birdsong Productions, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre
Running time
2hrs 20mins