Author’s love comes out of shadows

Amanda Ryan and Stephen Boxer in Shadowlands
Amanda Ryan and Stephen Boxer in Shadowlands

The offbeat love story between a famous novelist and a woman who changed his world forever is told on stage in Doncaster next week.

Shadowlands traces the real-life story of the Chronicles of Narnia writer CS Lewis and his late-blooming love for American poet Joy Davidman.

The couple met at Oxford in the 1950s and married just so that she could stay in the UK. Eventually they fell in love but Joy died of cancer a year later. The tragedy severely tested Lewis’s Christian faith.

Stephen Boxer said he’d always meant to catch the play on stage but never had and hadn’t seen the 1993 film starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger either.

“Reading the script I came to it afresh and knew very little about CS Lewis. I thought this is a stunning story and a stunning part.”

Stephen said that he found the writer “a fascinating man”. He also realised that he had been in Oxford himself when Lewis was a don there.

As a youngster Stephen got a choir scholarship to New College, half a mile away from where CS Lewis taught.

He said: “It is a seductive place. When Lewis was there it was at its peak as a male bastion of tweed-clad professors.”

Lewis lived a quiet, restrained life in Magdalen College, Oxford with his brother Warnie, eating in the college dining room every night.

Stephen said: “Suddenly a highly intelligent and brash American woman breaks into this world and turns it upside-down.

“He finds something more than cerebral satisfaction. He finds love.”

Stephen also remembers where he was on the night that Lewis died as it was the same day that President John Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963.

“An undergraduate stopped me and said, ‘do you know what’s happened? President Kennedy was shot’. I was within a couple of miles of CS Lewis at the same time.”

Stephen said that the story has proved a timeless one that appeals to all sorts of people who can identify with Lewis’s grief, loss and suffering.

There’s also a fantasy element when Joy’s son interacts with the world of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Stephen was a regular on the daytime BBC soap Doctors, playing Dr Joe Fenton from 2006 to 2008, reappearing briefly in 2010.

He loved Doctors but his wife put her foot down and said enough after two years because of the effect of the heavy work schedule on their family life.

He said: “I loved it. It didn’t have the pressure of EastEnders etc because it is a lunchtime soap. We weren’t leaned on.”

He also had the advantage of being on TV regularly but being able to retain his anonymity.

Shadowlands is at Cast in Doncaster next Tuesday to Saturday. Box office: at the theatre, call 01302 303959 or go online at castindoncaster.com