Skip to main content

Review of Shadowlands by Moulton Players at Moulton Theatre, Northampton

It has to be said that the world of Narnia, as created by C. S. Lewis, generally passed me by when I was young. My childhood reading generally came more from the more crazy side like Roald Dahl, therefore I have neither read, or I believe, ever seen any interpretation of Narnia. Not to say that my knowledge doesn't reach to the famous wardrobe, which in its way, has a curious, but fulfilling existence, in William Nicholson's Shadowlands as well.

Shadowlands deals with the relationship between C. S. Lewis and American writer Jo Gresham (Davidman), from burgeoning, to love and then her sudden illness. It's a lovely endearing and gentle tale, which in this production from Moulton Players, is mostly successful, albeit it occasionally clunky, especially in its very long first act.

As C. S. Lewis, Alex Page-Bailey gives a confident performance in a very large role. It has to be said, it doesn't start well, as the play opens with a long, and ponderous lecture to the audience, as part of Lewis' world of Christian apologist. It's a horrid, relentless opening to a play, that frankly deserves better. It also has to be said that it isn't Page-Bailey's finest moment, as the delivery of this piece has limited life in it, making it feel much longer as a result. It's curious that the second act opens with a similar scene directed right at the audience, and here, the emotion pulls through and the whole speech is pushed right through the audience as a result. More of that energy at the start of the first act would have been a delight. During the standard play, away from lecturing though, Page-Bailey is great, full of the slow building emotion, of a man who has reached almost sixty, seemingly never truly loved before.

Joy Davidson is played in a solid, confident way by Louise Drage, instilling much of the emotion into the role. She is definitely a chilly character at times, and you have to wonder, especially in the overlong first act, what actually makes Lewis so captivated by her (albeit, underlying at this stage). However, by the second half, the emotion and connections are much greater, because the relationship has become more lighthearted and carefree, ironic considering the turn of events.

Much of the enjoyment of this play comes from the second act, the first is woefully overlong and at times ponderous, but, the second act pays of for the patience of its audience with some lovely scenes between Davidson and Lewis.

There are other nice performances in this production beyond the two leads, Iain Gillies gives more life than the one-dimensional character of Major W. H. Lewis (Warnie) almost deserves. It's underwritten and quite characterless in dialogue, but Gillies breathes life into the role, including his simple, silent reactions garnering much audience appreciation.

Peter Laughton is great as the sharp and rude Professor Riley, happy to state his opinion of Lewis' new lady, but not so keen to take Joy's rebuff, simply performed, but entertaining at all times. Andrew Wintersgill also entertains, disgracefully stealing a scene from under the noses of the leads, with his, more than willing to sample the drinks, waiter.

Finally, special mention must go to Charlie Leonard-Pepin for a truly delightful little performance as Joy's son, Douglas (curiously Shadowlands dispenses totally with her second son, David). He is a wonderful presence on stage and exhibits everything of a star of the future, never switching off on stage, even when just in the background.

The play at times doesn't allow itself to be overly dynamic, with quite a few scenes rooted to locations with little chance of movement, however, director Stephen Loveless does keep the play moving with locations created simply by simply locking them to fixed places upon the stage and effective lighting changes. It allows the play to flow surprisingly well. The wardrobe of the centre stage is nicely realised also, becoming a character of its own.

Shadowlands is a sweet play, and in this production, nicely performed. There is no question for me that it is far too long, with the first act outstaying its welcome by a good ten minutes at least. However, the sharper, much more entertaining second act makes up for much of the disappointment of the first and leaves the audience entertained, despite the nature of the play.

Performance reviewed: Monday 5th March, 2018 at Moulton Theatre, Northampton

Shadowlands runs at Moulton Theatre, Northampton until Saturday 10th March 2018

For full details of the Moulton Theatre visit their website at moultontheatre.com

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Blue/Orange at Royal & Derngate (Royal), Northampton

The challenging and socially relevant Blue/Orange by Joe Penhall was published in 2000 and back then, this caustic exploration of mental health, and more specifically black mental health issues, was a tremendously relevant play. When it debuted on stage in London, the cast of just three was played by Bill Nighy, Andrew Lincoln and Chiwetel Ejiofor. Director James Dacre doesn't have those names to play with so much in his cast, however here, he has worked with the writer himself to rework the play for a more modern audience. Does it still shock, and is the relevance still there today? Sadly, perhaps, the answer is yes, as doctors Bruce Flaherty and Robert Smith come to verbal blows over the health of patient Christopher, at times, you feel 21 years shed little light on how mental health is approached. Many references in the script, still sit unquestionably in the year 2000, however, with this reworking, one thing has changed dramatically. In the original version of the play, the two

Review of Sister Act by the Northampton Musical Theatre Company at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

South Pacific at Royal & Derngate last year set a remarkable benchmark for an "amateur" production, with a large talented cast, superb vocals, sets and a polish up there with a professional production. Sister Act, this years production from the Northampton Musical Theatre Company was more of the same, but perhaps taken up a notch or two. Sister Act is a musical based on the 1992 Whoopi Goldberg comedy and was first performed in 2009. Written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner, it is a likable and fun musical which genuinely came as a surprise to me. The opening scene at Curtis's Bar and Nightclub is to be honest not the best though and genuinely didn't fill me with much hope. It feels as if it gives nothing to the cast, although it creates the premise of the story coupled with the incident outside the bar. Likewise, I didn't take much to the Police Station scene either, so it didn't bode well. When we reach the Queen Of Angels Cathedral though, this show

Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical , it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land? It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs. The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team c