(A delayed entry and a quick one due to the subject's exposure and the RZ catching the plague.)
The press, blogosphere, and message boards have all had their say on this play from a movie which became a play then a movie and brought back again as a play. And with Shadowlands closing on Saturday, there isn't much to add to the comments. Still, as someone who fell in love with the first three Narnia books in fourth grade (the real first three - Lion/Caspian/Dawn Treader, not the reshuffled order they sell them under now), the RZ was intrigued at the possibilities this bio-play had to offer.
So, the story (briefly): CS Lewis reluctantly agrees to meet a pen-pal from the US when she visits England, as much out of curiosity as to who this frustrating and argumentative woman is as a hope to be left alone afterwards. The two meet, become fast friends, and much to the dismay of Lewis's social circle, fall in love only to have tragedy strike.
Charles Dance is touching and heartfelt as Lewis, and Janie Dee exudes life as his penpal-cum-lover (no pun intended), the fireball American Joy Gresham. Matthew Wright's modular library set is clever, though a scene in which Joy's son is shown to be entering Narnia is unintentionally comedic. The minor characters, including two understudies, represent the stuffiness and sexism of the age and ivory towers, providing much comic relief in a work that establishes up front that things are not to end well.
As for the play itself, the RZ must concur with those who found it charming, touching, and a powerful night out, though it's also a long one - 160 min. including the interval, and the first act especially tends to drag. That said, the quality of the performances makes up for the briefly flagging moments, and those who haven't made it to the Novello yet should before this one slips away into the shadows itself.
Where: Novello Theatre
When: Through 23 Feb., M-Sa @ 19:30, Th/Sa @ 14:30
How Much: £10-45
Concessions: Seniors can advance book Thursday matinees best available for £25. Students can go £22.50 best available stalls from 1 hr beforehand.
RZ Unofficial "Worth Paying": £30 for beautiful acting in a smart, moving production.
RZ Other Notes: This could go down as one of the most bungled transfers in recent West End history. After a successful run at the Wyndham, the transfer was done with as little down time as possible, and minimal marketing - the same poster as the prior run was used, just with a tag saying "Now at the Novello". A smart marketing firm would have used a new publicity shot to get peoples' attention to make it clear that the show was still running (and not competing with posters featuring the closing date at the Wyndham) and reset the piece in the public's mindset. On a more positive note, the show's official website is nice, featuring full cast/crew details and concession information.