Questioning Aslan: An Evening with CS Lewis

Nigel Forde

Searchlight Theatre

Palmerston Place Church

From 23 August 2017 to 26 August 2017

Rating: ****

Review by Graeme Strachan

In late 1950s Oxford, famed author and professor, Clive Staples Lewis, meets with a disenchanted tutorial student James, a lad who is becoming increasingly frustrated and terrified by the pressures of the wider world, the encroaching cold war, and his mother's illness. As James tries to throw away his academic career, Lewis engages him in a mixture of philosophical and theological debate, and a little reminiscing.

Nigel Forde's play uses the framing of Lewis and James's conversations to engage in a fascinating series of discussions, bouncing around the ideas of scientific naturalism and Christian apologetics in a jovial and entertaining manner. It's a surprisingly warm and funny play as well, forsaking any point scoring in favour of portraying the positions taken as mutually respected, and the characters coming across as real people.

This is clearly a testimony to how well the actors embody their roles. David Robinson and Michael Taylorson bouncy off each other with the relaxed and practiced ease that comes from over a decade of performing together in various productions.

Their interplay is seeming friendly and natural at all times, moving from an easy teacher-student relationship to a more equal meeting of minds and back throughout. While Robinson's Lewis has a more reserved, yet avuncular side, there's a glint in his eye at the wonder he still holds towards the world and the mysteries of God and the heavens, whereas Taylorson's James is a more fractious figure, desperate for direction and guidance, but firmly resolute with a young man's boldness.

It's a surprising piece, partly because the title misleads. Rather than an evening with C S Lewis, we are treated to a series of meetings between the two men and the evolving nature of their conversation and James's tortured opening up to Christianity and the possibilities of faith. There's also an unexpected moment of song when Taylorson breaks into a stunning rendition of "Ave Maria".

If it has a fault, it's that the play is rather on the long side, and at 90 minutes with an intermission, the piece did feel its length, especially as the nature of the conversational style does feel like it could have stood to be trimmed a little, and perhaps as a result focused more.

That and the echoing nature of the church hall it was staged in meant that sometimes the dialogue was lost in the booming reverberations of the building. But all in all, there's really a lot to love about this production.