Of Wardrobes and Rings

David Payne, having already portrayed C. S. Lewis well over 500 times, writes and stars in a new play about the final meeting between Lewis and his friend and sparring partner J. R. R. Tolkien, played by David Robinson. The piece is a mellow and touching portrayal of male friendship, and sure to be of interest to lovers of fantasy writing, but is perhaps too cosy a drama to inspire great theatre.

A warm-hearted play, though it only becomes a powerful one at its climax.

Both Payne and Robinson are superb in their roles as the literary giants. Payne, as you would expect, gives a performance closer to surviving voice recordings from his real-life counterpart, but it is Robinson as the more egocentric and irascible Tolkien that dominates the stage. Together they gave a good impression of the initial frostiness between estranged friends, but their affection for each other also comes across powerfully and by the end there is likely to be a lump in your throat. When Robinson revisited the first poem he had read to Lewis as a student, the scene is filled with unexpected emotion and a great sense of the two author’s unique bond.

Payne’s script is also of good quality, filled with gentle wit and some great dramatic irony when both writers vow never to allow film versions to be made of their works. Though the play definitely succeeds in what it sets out to do, in a sense it is of primary interest as an insight into the lives of the famous authors rather than as a drama in itself. Tolkien and Lewis’s disagreements tend to be shrugged off with a joke rather than hammered out, and though the two actors are believable as academics their conversation is never particularly intellectual.

This is certainly a warm-hearted play, though it only becomes a powerful one at its climax. It is of real interest for those wishing to see the men behind the great literary works, but perhaps it would be best to look elsewhere for gripping drama.

Reviews by Simon Fearn

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The Blurb

The year is 1963 and two giants of British literature, CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien, now in the autumn of their lives, come together at one of their favourite haunts, Oxford’s Eagle and Child pub. While this encounter reveals some of the underlying issues that drove them apart in the latter years, it also reveals that in coming together those issues melt away thanks to the underlying deep affection that both have for each other. Here is a feast for anyone who really wants to know what made these masters of fantasy tick.