Tag Archives: Amanda Ryan

Lessons in Love

SHADOWLANDS

The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 31st May, 2016

 

Jack (aka C. S. Lewis to you and me) is a confirmed bachelor, a middle-aged don lecturing at Oxford about pain and suffering being God’s way of showing us he loves us.  Something along those lines, anyway.  The lecture, which opens the show, brings to mind the old saw, “Those who can’t, teach”.  Indeed, it’s not long before old Jack learns the harsh lesson that experience is vastly different from theory, or indeed theology.  Into his stuffy male world amid the hallowed halls of academia, comes American Joy Gresham.  They correspond by post initially until she suggests they meet for tea.  A friendship is engendered, which develops into something more, bringing Jack into real contact with the pain and suffering he has been banging on about.

This touring show by the excellent Birdsong Productions is supremely enjoyable.   William Nicholson’s charming and witty script is brought to sparkling life; director Alastair Whatley knows when to temper the British reserve of the characters with glimpses of emotion.  Often, the understated moments are the most striking.

Stephen Boxer makes Jack a likeable figure, as we watch him thaw and take tentative steps toward expressing his feelings, gradually winkled out of his shell.  We urge him on and it is touching to see the progress he makes.  Amanda Ryan as Joy is the chalk to his cheese, but their differences are mainly on the surface.  She is very much his intellectual equal, someone to stir him out of his stagnation.  The dialogue sparks between them and, perhaps surprisingly, the laughs keep coming despite some difficult subject matter.  Even with a terminal illness, she is funny.  The humour binds the couple and endears them to us.

Denis Lill, for me, almost steals the show as Jack’s lovably gruff brother Warnie.  British reserve has rarely been more eloquent.  Simon Shackleton also makes a strong impression as boorish Professor Riley, offering an atheistic counterpoint to Jack’s faith, while Shannon Rewcroft dons schoolboy blazer and short trousers for a convincing portrayal of Joy’s eight-year-old son.

It’s an entertaining, amusing and absorbing tale of love and loss, superbly presented.  Poignant without mawkishness or sentimentality, it shows us that Romeo and Juliet are not the only star-cross’d lovers that can break our hearts and, while it’s based on a couple from real life, shows us the universals in their story, examining notions of pain, suffering and what we mean by ‘love’.

Powerful stuff.

Denis Lill as Major W.H. Lewis and Stephen Boxer as C.S. Lewis in Shadowlands. Credit Jack Ladenburg

Tea for two: Denis Lill and Stephen Boxer (Photo: Jack Ladenburg)

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Three Sisters

THE MEMORY OF WATER

New Vic Theatre, Friday 7th March, 2014

 

The New Vic’s revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 play is a beautifully presented, tightly acted production.  The sharpness of the writing has the characters throwing wit and sarcasm at each other – sometimes the barbed comments hit home and open cans of worms.

Three sisters of different ages and temperaments gather at their recently deceased mother’s house for the funeral.  Mum herself is still knocking around, appearing to middle daughter Mary in fantasy/dream/memory sequences full of recriminations and accusations.  Having a ghost in a play is as old as drama itself, of course, but the focus here is not on the apparition but the lingering pain of memory and things unspoken or old ground trodden over repeatedly.  As dead woman Vi, Lynn Farleigh cuts an elegant figure and is far from the aloof and distant figure Mary remembers.  The play has a theme of the unreliability of memory running through it like words through a stick of seaside rock – Mary is even a doctor with a patient suffering from trauma-induced amnesia, to strengthen this motif.  Each daughter remembers a different childhood, although none of them is accurate.  They trigger memories in each other but they are unsure who had the starring role in each misremembered incident.

It’s a very funny play.  As eldest and most bitter sister Teresa, Mary-Jo Randle is a mixture of strength and fragility, both of which are exacerbated by her intake of whisky. She is hilarious and compelling.  Caroline Langrishe is Mary, who speaks ‘properly’ as befits her profession, combining an authoritative tone with vulnerability.  She snipes defensively – her affair with married man Mike (Paul Opacic) comes under more strain with the impending funeral.  Langrishe, especially in her scenes with mother’s ghost, is excellent – but then, this is an excellent cast. Director Nikolai Foster gets multi-faceted performances from them and handles their contrasts and contradictions expertly.

Amanda Ryan is a treat as uninhibited youngest sister Catherine, prone to too much retail therapy, pot-smoking and continental boyfriends.  She brings her sisters down to her level and they become like three children bickering, or having a laugh dressing up in their mother’s frocks.  The men (Mary’s boyfriend and Teresa’s husband) are secondary figures but each has his moment.  Steven Pinder is first-rate as long-suffering Frank, bemused most of the time, until he reaches the end of his tether, and Paul Opacic does well to convince as attractive but unlikable two-timing Mike.

It all takes place on an attractive set by designer takis, atmospherically lit by Ben Cracknell, surrounded by snow and frost.  The coldness of the outside world is kept at bay by the warmth of family ties and the heat of family conflict.

Entertaining and emotive, The Memory of Water shows yet again the high quality of the work being produced at the New Vic.  Well worth the journey every time.

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