This performance – which was created and performed by multi-talented couple, Sandra and Stephen Cole, of His and Hers Theatre Company – was a delight to watch. But, before ploughing on with a poesy of praise, let me take you back to that period between 1930 and the 1950s, which encompassed WW2 and so many of the changes which have made the UK the place it is today (for better or for worse)…
At a time when the Older Statesmen and women of the literary and artistic world, the Bloomsbury Group, were still meeting but, perhaps, declining in power and certainly in youth, younger writers we have come to know and love now started to convene for regular discussions on literature.
They became known as the Inklings and were associated with the University of Oxford. The members – which included J.R.R Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Roger Lancelyn Green – were, in the main, academics at the university, and they met to praise the value of narrative in fiction and, very much to the benefit of the world since then, to encourage the writing of fantasy.
The play itself was centred around the room in which these august literary figures met, and the narrator of the piece, Roger Lancelyn Green, was played most convincingly and, at times, movingly, by Stephen Cole. Suited, be-hatted, pipe in hand, ‘Roger’ went round the table – with its weight of tomes and the palpable presence of the absent members of the group – and talked us through something of each man’s history, pausing to sip at their individual drinks of choice as he went.
His account of their lives and writings revolved largely around Clive Staples Lewis, though the ‘voices’ and influences , often from childhood, of Tolkien, Owen Barfield (whose daughter, Lucy – to whom ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ was dedicated – was the inspiration for Lucy, the youngest of the Pevensie children in the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’) and the others made their mark upon the mood too.
It was fascinating to learn how the coloured ribbons of childhood tragedy, the magic and intense imagination little children possess and the sibling bond – especially between Lewis and his older brother, Warren, ‘Warnie’ – plaited together to form nascent fantasy worlds and, thus, in adulthood, to create two of the most famous literary landscapes of the twentieth century: Middle-earth and Narnia.
The women in these men’s lives also had a vast influence – and were played, beautifully, by Sandra Cole. Long dark hair loose and flying, she embodied Tolkien’s wife, Edith Mary and, in a most touching scene, made clear the invention and adoption, privately, of their pet names for one another, Lúthien Tinúviel and Beren.
Sandra also played a cleaner coming in to sort out the room after the Great Men had left – and her commentary upon aspects of their lives was most illuminating. Her performance as Florence Augusta, Lewis’s mother (whose early death affected him so badly), was deeply affecting.
The play was completely gripping, original and often endearing. The bond between the actors, their clear support for one another, was clear throughout. This gave each scene a warm and seamless quality and made the various strands of love completely believable.
I laughed, gazed in rapt fascination. learned a great deal, swallowed a throat lump or two – and, at the end, joined in a lovely and very sweet Hobbit-themed song, with Stephen accompanying the tune on his guitar.
There will be a repeat performance, this Saturday, June 17th, at the United Reformed Church in Glastonbury. I am seriously considering going along again myself – and would thoroughly recommend this unique dramatic experience to everyone.