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By William Nicholson
C.S. Lewis (“Jack”)
Directed by Barry Baynton
Designed by Barry Baynton, Colin Pile & Jackson Ellen
William Nicholson’s stage adaptation of his award-winning BBC production tells the moving true story of the relationship between Oxford don and children’s author C.S. Lewis and American poet Joy Gresham. Shadowlands shows how the wonder of late-flowering love, and the terrible pain of mortality, transformed Lewis, especially in his relationship with God. The play is powerful and thought-provoking, but written with great wit and humour. Wonderfully directed by Barry Baynton, Wimborne Drama Productions produced an excellent performance, showcasing a cast of highly talented individuals.
The action of the play takes place in the 1950s over the course of three years, in and around Oxford and in Greece. The back stage team were certainly kept busy with many scene changes and must be praised for their unobtrusive presence, moving large pieces of furniture and delicate crockery with seamless ease. The set was magnificent, and though mentioned in the programme as "rather large, but as we imagined it would seem in the mind of young Douglas", the wardrobe was tremendous, both in stature and the interior design.
Sam Moulton played the part of C.S.Lewis, or Jack as he was known to his friends and family after the loss of his beloved pet dog Jacksie when Lewis was just four years old. I have not had the honour to have seen any of Sam's previous roles, but if they were as encapturing of the audience as this role, I am sorry to have missed them. By opening and closing the play with a 'piece to audience' Sam established a rapport and understanding with the character which remained consistent throughout. Never once was heard a prompt or hesitancy in the flawless delivery of copious script.
Supported throughout by his housemate and brother Major W.H.Lewis, played wonderfully by Chris Durham, the formal brotherly relationship of confirmed bachelors softens as the friendship grows between Jack and the visiting American Joy Gresham, played magnificently by Tracey Nicholls. Tracey embraced the characterisation of the feisty, bright and strong-willed woman, bringing warmth and compassion to the role.
I must also commend the performance by Gabriel Feltham of young Douglas Gresham, in his first role with Wimborne Drama Productions, following a long line of family members to join the company. He is, of course, the lucky one who gets to see inside the wardrobe!
Supported by a magnificent cast, this is a must-see play and is running at the Tivoli Theatre till Saturday 20th, though going by the almost full house on opening night, tickets may be scarce. I also recommend you buy a well produced programme as it is packed with interesting background information.
Sandra Marsden, Scene One
It is a rare production which nudges you to savour every single word.
This one does.
It is hugely thought-provoking but despite the seriousness and sadness there are many moments of humour.
Although William Nicholson's play based on the true story of C S Lewis (Narnia author) and American poet Joy Gresham is pretty well known as it has been screened on TV, shown in the West End and on Broadway and became a film starring Anthony Hopkins, this production at the Tivoli is nonetheless riveting.
It wouldn't be too strong to say that the portrayals by the two leading actors are as good as you would see in any professional production.
From the moment Sam Moulton steps on the stage you know that this is going to be something special as he encapsulates totally the character of C S - or Jack as he was known - Lewis. Tracey Nicholls not only maintains her American accent throughout, she inhabits the persona of the straight talking, yet warm Joy Gresham.
You don't feel they are acting - they are being the characters.
The stage set is cleverly arranged so that the action can move seamlessly from different parts of Oxford in the 1950s to Greece.
Although the two main characters dominate in their excellence, they are more than supported by the other eight actors.
There is Chris Durham who adds humour and empathy as his brother Warnie, David Pile as the crotchety Professor and Gary Paine as the vicar struggling with his conscience.
Gabriel Feltham is - as the part demands - slightly insular as Joy's son Douglas, but he shows that despite his youth he is very comfortable on stage.
Other actors have two parts. Colin Pile is one of Jack's friends Alan as well as the doctor, Ken Fletcher is Dr Oakley and a priest, and Ann McColgan-Clark is the registrar and a nurse. Val Mantle has a couple of walk on roles, and is delightful as the Greek waitress.
Director Barry Baynton deserves bucket loads of accolades for this production.
It runs until Saturday. Do get a ticket, it is not to be missed.
However, even if you know the ending, you will need some tissues!
Marilyn Barber, Stour and Avon Magazine
Photographs: Richard Neal
Wimborne Drama Productions