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Arts preview: an unlikely romance

Hugh Chow

 

Shadowlands
Hong Kong Players

 

Author C.S. Lewis achieved enduring fame as the creator of Narnia, a magical world populated by fantastic creatures and shaped by a mythology that paralleled the biblical stories of his own Christian faith.

While Lewis is best remembered for his children's books such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, it was his religious writing that convinced American novelist Joy Davidman to seek out her literary hero and set off events that would change both their lives.

William Nicholson's Shadowlands is a fictionalised account of their unlikely love story. The Hong Kong Players, in association with Hong Kong Repertory Theatre, is staging a production of this much-lauded tearjerker to mark the 50th anniversary of Lewis' death.

"It's a love story and there's a bit of comedy in there," says director Adam Harris. "But it's also a play that deals with grief and the loss of a loved one. For Lewis it caused a crisis of faith."

"Jack" Lewis met Davidman when he was 53. She was 15 years his junior. Lewis was a devout Christian who had spent most of his life teaching at Oxford University and had never married. Davidman, who had a Jewish upbringing, was in an abusive marriage but had found comfort in Lewis' writing.

"She was almost in love with him before they even met," says Harris. "But Lewis is so uptight and so inexperienced in recognising his own feelings."

The brash and outspoken American shocks the sheltered, male-dominated world of Oxbridge in the 1950s, a full decade before the sexual and social changes of the sixties. For Lewis, what starts off as an admiration for Davidman's intellect gradually develops into something deeper and, eventually, marriage.

Fans of the 1993 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger, which was adapted from the play and a 1985 British television film, will know that sudden illness robs Lewis of his happiness and leaves him to raise a young stepson on his own. However, that's no reason to skip the play.

"The play is very different to the film," says Harris. "There's more magic. There's a lovely moment where the plot of the first Narnia book is interwoven with the plot of the play."

Stephen Bolton plays Lewis in this Hong Kong production. Bolton is a veteran of local community theatre, having been involved with the Hong Kong Players since 2001.

Tammie Rhee, who studied at New York's T. Schreiber Studio, which boasts alumni including Edward Norton and Peter Sarsgaard, plays the spirited Davidman. Oscar-nominated playwright Nicholson was part of the team that scripted the film version of hit musical Les Misérables.

48hours@scmp.com

 

HKRep Black Box, Sheung Wan Civic Centre. May 29-June 1, 8pm; June 1, 3pm. HK$250. Inquiries: 2111 5999

 

 

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