SHADOWLANDSBirdsong Productions at the New Wolsey Theatre Ipswich
A beautifully crafted revival of William Nicholson's dramatization of the unlikely relationship between C S Lewis and Joy Davidman. Directed by Alistair Whatley on the impressive touring set he designed with Anne-Marie Woodley.
High windows, one of which will lead to another world, an institutional timepiece, ticking but stuck at 8:32, echoed by a mantel clock beneath, a fire in the hearth.
Jack Lewis's opening lecture uses a blackboard to excellent effect, a row of students with their backs to us. In Stephen Boxer's performance, he's dry but humorous, vocally slightly reminiscent of Nigel Hawthorne, who created the role back in 1989. As the drama unfolds, his long-locked emotional life surfaces slowly, until at last the tears flow. An honest, heart-wrenching performance, giving the text room to breathe, suggesting the unspoken thoughts and impulses behind the academic façade.
The rest of the cast is equally strong. Denis Lill is the taciturn Warnie, kindly but gruff, his only reaction to his brother's bombshell to pause a second before turning the page of his book. Amanda Ryan gives a moving American poet, feisty to the last, her pain somehow etched into her face even when she first enters.
Atheist Professor Riley is a caustic, clubbable Simon Shackleton, Ian Marr a brusque doctor, Jeffrey Harmer plays the only married man in Lewis's misogynistic coterie, the vicar who won't bend the rules to marry a divorced woman. The ceremony is eventually carried out by Richard Holliday's kindly cleric, the image, at least in profile, of Archbishop Fisher.
I understand why you can't have a boy playing Douglas on tour. Though you do lose the “child caught in the magic spell”, in Shannow Rowcroft's nuanced performance, you gain an intelligent portrayal of the uncomfortable, confused little boy sitting in the window.
'His' silver apple sequence, an inspired way of getting the hospital bed off stage, is one of many wonderful moments in a memorable production. The music – Mia Soteriou – evokes the choral tradition of the city of dreaming spires, including a surprisingly polished In Dulci Jubilo.