Shadowlands review: ‘A total triumph’

OVO presents Shadowlands at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans

OVO presents Shadowlands at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans - Credit: Archant

Madeleine Burton reviews OVO’s production of Shadowlands at the Maltings Arts Theatre in St Albans.

Theatregoers will know that William Nicholson’s Shadowlands is one of the most poignant plays of modern times.

The story of CS Lewis’s love for the American divorcee Joy Gresham and the tragedy of her struggle with cancer is well-known.

The play is not just a comprehensive view of life, love and death but also an examination of such profound issues as religion and humanity.

St Albans-based theatre company OVO is never afraid to tackle demanding plays and thanks to an exemplary cast and a director well-steeped and clearly moved by Lewis’s philosophy, Shadowlands is a total triumph.

Played out on the stage of the Maltings Arts Theatre, it is a life-affirming production that combines laughter and tears, drama and pathos.

In Paul Manuel, taking the role of Jack, as Lewis was known to his friends, OVO really hit the jackpot.

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From his first moment on stage to his last, it was like watching an old friend not an actor performing his lines.

You feel his rapture and subsequent pain as he meets and falls in love with Joy and when tragedy strikes, everyone in the audience must have felt like stretching their arms out to him.

As director Ed White said in his programme notes, Paul Manuel took on a “Herculean task” by tackling the role of Lewis, which must be one of the most demanding an actor can face. He left the stage having convinced the audience he was Lewis and not acting the part.

Any great CS Lewis should have an equally special Joy, and Paul did in the shape of one of St Albans’ most accomplished actresses, Jill Priest.

From her first appearance to her dying scene, she was excellent.

She captured the spirit of the era and the position women found themselves in – and her scene when she receives a letter from her first husband asking for a divorce should be held up as a model of consummate acting skill.

With two such prominent characters, the more minor roles could be seen as incidental but by clever staging, they told vital parts of the story.

Particularly outstanding were Roger Mullis as Major ‘Warnie’ Lewis, Jack’s brother, and Mark Waghorn’s academically pompous Professor Christopher Riley.

Special mention should be made of the delightful acting of Dante Doros as Joy’s young son Douglas.

There are still three opportunities to see Shadowlands and if you get the chance to see it, take it.

This is St Albans’ theatre at its best.

It is on stage from 8pm on Thursday, September 28, on Friday, September 29, and Saturday, September 30.

• Tickets can be obtained from