Frankly, I had qualms about Hugh Bonneville in the role of CS Lewis in Shadowlands: too handsome, too familiar in his evocations of dullish decent steadiness, but before many minutes in the chaffing Common Room scenes which open the play, I could see the point.
Shadowlands isn’t an all-out weepie but there are a few who will find it hard to control their emotions. A well made and moving revival.
Shadowlands, the William Nicholson play that charts the story of C.S. Lewis’ correspondence-turned-relationship with the American poet Joy Gresham, is such a perfect fit for the Chichester audience it’s almost a surprise it isn’t a regular feature here.
“God” says Christopher Riley, donnishly, “has a severely limited intellect”. Jack Lewis, his Magdalen colleague, demurs with affectionate impatience, secure in a religious faith which borders dangerously on the smug. At first, anyway. The port circulates. Their 1950’s Oxford world is scholarly, limited, safe from women. When Lewis strikes up an intellectual friendship with an American correspondent, Joy, she hits this stagnating pond with a splash. Riley attempts his theory that only men have intellect – “animus” – women instead merely have soul “anima”. Sweetly, Joy explains that as an American unused to his culture, she “needs guidance. Are you being offensive or just stupid?”.