Sunday, 16 December 2018

‘Mere Christianity’ can spare no one the problem of pain

FOR those of a religious persuasion, one of the hardest theological nuts to crack must be

FOR those of a religious persuasion, one of the hardest theological nuts to crack must be the nature of pain and suffering, and reconciling this with a belief in a higher being and a love for our fellow mortals.

In this moving adaptation of William Nicholson’s Shadowlands, this is how we are introduced to CS Lewis (Stephen Boxer) — familiarly known as Jack — as he delivers a lecture to his Oxford undergraduates on pain, suffering, love and the existence of God.

It was a great theatrical device to address the audience in front of the blackboard, as though we made up the bulk of his students. It made the talks gripping.

When we first meet Jack, he is living a cloistered Fifties existence with a bunch of fellow Oxford academics and his brother, Warnie (Denis Lill).

Into this stuffy patriarchal world steps Joy Gresham, née Davidman (Amanda Ryan), accompanied by one of her two sons, Douglas (Shannon Rewcroft), an American fellow convert to Christianity seeking relief from life with her philandering, alcoholic husband. Offhandedly dismissed as Jack’s “pen pal” by his peers, Joy gradually finds a place in Jack’s heart — first as a close friend, then as a kindred spirit.

As Joy’s husband then divorces her, in order to help her stay in the UK, Jack agrees to a marriage of convenience, while we the audience realise before Jack does that they are fast becoming soulmates and falling in love.

It takes a cruel twist of fate to force Jack’s hand, as Joy suffers a fall and it is discovered she has terminal bone cancer.

As she lies on her deathbed, he immediately arranges a marriage of love — with its own theological discussion on marriage in the eyes of God — and shortly afterwards Joy is deemed to be in a brief remission. This reimagining of a real-life love story in the autumn years was beautifully paced and thoughtfully played.

We could see the dichotomy of Joy’s suffering and then respite and the impact on Jack’s faith as well as on his Oxford lectures.

Jack and Joy made a very convincing couple and Warnie was portrayed as a staunch supporter and warmly devoted sibling.

The bleaker aspects of the play were done with sensitivity, beautiful music and lighting, and you were left feeling glad that Jack had found Joy, and reflecting on life, love and happiness.

Review: atalie Aldred

Shadowlands is playing at the Hexagon in Reading, from Tuesday, May 3, to Thursday, May 5.

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