Theatre preview: Shadowlands

A hit in the West End and on Broadway, this week the stage adaptation of Shadowlands arrives in Birmingham. John Kennedy looks ahead.

Seasoned Rep audiences will be relishing this major revival of Shadowlands, produced by Birdsong – following their acclaimed productions of Birdsong and Flare Path – in association with Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

Featuring a star cast, Shadowlands follows the revelatory moral, spiritual and artistically cathartic true story of the private life of celebrated author CS Lewis and his affair with American poet Joy Davidman. It was previous to this tempestuous relationship that Lewis had formed a close friendship with JRR Tolkien, the latter having redirected Lewis back to his Christian faith. Following the war to end all wars, many, including Lewis, came to question their religious beliefs. Thus, playwright William Nicholson’s title may be interpreted on several layers. The shadow of the recent war, the shadow of Lewis’ crisis of Christian faith, his sense of guilt over having an affair with a dynamic divorcee, and not least his reputation as an Oxford academic and emerging children’s author to consider. Also, his brother Warnie’s ambiguous opinions weighed heavily. It was a lasting bane for Lewis that Tolkien was, rightly for many, disparaging of the blatant evangelical proselyting in the Narnia series. The Lord Of The Rings trilogy, no less spiritually redemptive, is far more subtly embedded. Following World War II, Tolkien insisted his writing was “applicable but never allegorical”. The inescapable final shadow that loomed over Lewis and Davidson’s love was her eventual diagnosis with cancer.

Shadowlands runs at the Rep, May 31-June 4. For more information, visit http://www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/event/shadowlands/.

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