Shadowlands at Chichester Festival Theatre REVIEW: ‘A performance rich in detail’

Hugh Bonneville and Liz White in Shadowlands at Chichester Festival Theatre, April 25-May 25, 2019. Picture by Manuel Harlan
Hugh Bonneville and Liz White in Shadowlands at Chichester Festival Theatre, April 25-May 25, 2019. Picture by Manuel Harlan
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Second on the Chichester menu this year is William Nicholson’s study of the relationship between the writers C S Lewis and Joy Gresham.

The text of the play is a beautiful piece of work – so does Rachel Kavanaugh’s production live up to it?

Yes. Oh, most definitely, yes.

This is a performance, rich in detail, from a cast that is firing on all cylinders.

Hugh Bonneville’s “Jack” Lewis is an intellectual bachelor whose life is governed by academia and religion. When he responds to a letter from an American fan his life changes for good and for the better – but with desperately tragic resolution. Bonneville handles the part beautifully. His Lewis is delightfully stiff-upper-lipped but when the British reserve finally slips, his agony is palpable. Both the lighter moments and the darker sequences benefit from his lightness of touch.

As Gresham, Liz White fairly knocks it out of the ball-park. I do however have one gripe about her performance. She is genuine and warm and believable – but the accent is just too much;  too stereotypical and oftentimes unreal. This is a shame as the rest of her Joy is, well, joyous.

There’s cracking support from Andrew Havill as Lewis’ brother, Warnie. Timothy Watson as Professor Christopher Reilly is excellent and, on press-night, the role of Gresham’s young son, Douglas, was played by the very capable Eddie Martin.

The set is beautiful and clever, referencing the Narnia books and even allowing us two brief trips to Lewis’ allegorical heaven.

It’s not an easy watch – but it’s well worth the trip.