‘Shadowlands’ was permeating.
A quiet, slow boiling play, ‘Shadowlands’ explores a few intriguing years in the life of author C. S. Lewis and his friendship, and subsequent relationship, with an American fan, Joy Davidman. Their uneasy meetings and his exploration of what that does to his bachelorhood and underlying faith make for a curious subject matter, and theatre that one cannot help but watch.
Helen Ekundayo’s direction was smooth and allowed the storyline to simmer gently without fuss or much interruption. The unique space at the Ron Hurley Theatre does not always lend itself to putting on a full production, it has no wing space and with the stage on the floor, it is more suited to concerts, but Ekundayo created a space that was warm and charming and felt comfortable – like we had just stepped into Lewis’s home.
When not occupying the house-like area, the other half of the stage served as all the other “spaces”, be they coffee shops, bars, government offices, or hospitals. Sometimes the constantly changing furniture, mostly between different types of tables, drew focus, and one table and chairs could have served for the entirety of the first Act. However, the true hero of the set design, bridging the two spaces together, was a giant wardrobe. This feature added magic and wonder and inside nods to the works of Lewis throughout the entire production. It was a spectacular backdrop that enriched the show.
As the leading man himself, Gary Condoseres brought a wonderful mix of charmed English confidence and frightened kitten-like trepidation to the role. His interactions with the audience and the other cast members had a great range – from sternly lecturing professor, questioning philosopher, and even a giggling schoolboy who had never thought to hold a girls hand before … or take his jacket off in public. The entire show rested on Condoseres’ ability to bring us into the world of Lewis, and he succeeded in spades, giving a masterful performance.
Stephen O’Grady as Warwick Lewis (C. S. Lewis’s brother and flatmate) was charming and a wonderful foil to some of the neuroses that Condoseres brought forth. Both actors had wonderful onstage chemistry and their scenes in the living room were perfectly captivating. So much so, you could be fooled into thinking they live together in the real world.
As a divorced mother, fan, writer, and world-disruptor Joy Davidman, Lucy Moxon was wonderful. She was acerbic and sarcastic, where Condoseres was genuine and sincere, and this brought a gorgeous truth to their burgeoning relationship. She played the twists in the show without guile that the audience spent half the time wondering if they should mistrust her, or adore her, and this was a special piece of acting. Of note was Moxon’s work with young Aidan Gill as her characters young son Douglas. The two brought a nice believability to their performances.
Trevor Bond, Dirk Pretorius, and Bill Bassett round out the cast, playing a range of roles from Lewis’ glowering contemporaries, to judges, doctors, and hotel staff. They presented a lovely sense of English chill and disapproval every time they were on stage together, but also nailed the quiet support that men often give one another – often wordless, summed in an expression, or simply by standing silently nearby in case you’re needed. These small moments could have easily been spiritless, but the ensemble, under Ekundayo’s direction, handled them beautifully.
‘Shadowlands’ was a beautifully performed piece that asked deep questions, which were not readily answered. It is a dream show for actors who really want to flex their muscles, and for audiences who want to enjoy both a slice of history and good performers strut their stuff. The play was not full of tension, or huge action sequences, but lingered longingly in the air after the lights came up as if you’ve just been peeking into a wardrobe, into another world.
‘Shadowlands’ performs at the Ron Hurley Theatre until Sunday, 23 June 2019. For ticketing and additional information go to http://villanovaplayers.com.