Review: Shadowlands, Salisbury Playhouse

How would you feel when you realise that a mutual deep love has developed ... but is destined for a painful and premature end?

Set in stuffy and traditional Oxford academia during the grey post-war 1950s, Shadowlands, by William Nicholson, examines the true story of the love between CS Lewis, author of the popular Narnia stories for children, and Joy Gresham, a feisty American single parent and poet.

In difficult and emotionally demanding roles, Stephen Boxer as “Jack” Lewis and Amanda Ryan as Joy are both outstanding as the gentle lovers.

CS Lewis is a committed Christian, discovering love late in life, Stephen Boxer conveying brilliantly his agonies over traditional values clashing with his new-found affections.

Joy has been married before, to a violent alcoholic, moving to England for a new life. With a convincing Jewish New York accent, Amanda Ryan nails a beautiful mix between American can-do attitude and her cancer-ridden vulnerability.

As Lewis’s stalwart brother Warnie, Denis Lill is superb, his stiff-upper-lip softening as he helps Joy’s emotionally splintering son.

Nicholson’s script is revealing and challenging, mixing the heart-breaking reality of Joy’s cancer and early death with Lewis’s intellectual perplexities and anguish.

However, in this version of Shadowlands, perhaps more could be made of the charming comfort of The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe author’s milieu.

A previous Salisbury Playhouse 2007 treatment had Joy’s young son stepping through a wardrobe into a magical snowy garden.

Runs until Saturday.

Brendan McCusker