C S Lewis is one of those names most British people will know, whether for his children’s book series The Chronicles of Narnia, or Christian writings such as The Screwtape Letters. Here, the audience is addressed as though we’re a group of American writers, visiting Lewis in his home in Oxford in 1963. Lewis is equally famous in the USA, where creation of this show – and David Payne’s career as an actor – began as a result of him being in the right place at the right time for an audition, and having a British accent.
Fitting to the great British institution Lewis has become, Payne is seated in an old armchair, his brown jacket and trousers evoking the Oxford academic. The spotlight is on him as he drinks tea and talks of his life, rambling on like a grandad, so caught up in his reminiscing he never does get round to serving his guests.
This is not to suggest that his anecdotes aren’t interesting. Lewis is known for having converted to Christianity from atheism, and he sets out here how this transformation occurred. Lewis is also known for his relationship with American divorcée Joy Gresham, who entered his life at 41 and won his bachelor’s heart – only after Lewis married her to avoid his new, dear friend’s imminent repatriation to the USA. Enumerating the circumstances of Gresham’s tragic death, Payne achieves a moving honesty without slipping into sentimentalism. It’s serious stuff, but with a sensitive treatment that offers a few opportunities for a chuckle.
The repertoire of the show contains no surprises, and Payne’s delivery is polished. This is not a new show, having already played to audiences of thousands, and will the tour the USA again after the Fringe is over.
It’s unlikely anyone buying a ticket will feel short-changed – while this show is tame and relatively uneventful, it does what it says on the tin. There’s something to be said for visiting a familiar figure, and listening to the same old stories when well told.