Q&A with Hugh Bonneville and Liz White

Interview for Chichester Festival Theatre

26th March 2019

William Nicholson’s Shadowlands opens in the Festival Theatre in April. We caught up with Hugh Bonneville who plays C.S. Lewis and Liz White who plays Joy Gresham to ask what attracted them to the piece and how they are preparing for their roles.

Hugh Bonneville returns to Chichester following his acclaimed performance in An Enemy of the People (2016). His many television and film appearances include Downton Abbey, W1A and Paddington.

You play C.S. Lewis in this production. What was it about the subject matter and Lewis as a character that attracted you to the role?

William Nicholson’s contribution to the script of the movie Gladiator and his more recent screenplay, Breathe, were both deeply affecting (I appeared in the latter, so perhaps I’m biased). He writes about love and suffering with extraordinary insight and compassion. So his exploration of the life of sheltered, certain, C.S. Lewis being disrupted by such powerful forces is a story I can’t wait to tell.

How are you preparing for the role?

I grew up on The Chronicles of Narnia and when I studied Theology for A Level, The Screwtape Letters were a must-read… I’ve retrieved them from the attic and am dusting them off!

Many audience members may be coming to CFT for the first time. What would you say to those theatregoers coming to Chichester this season?

Leafing through the Theatre’s Festival 2019 brochure made me grin with anticipation: the programme is so varied and deliciously enticing. With the novel addition of the Spiegeltent (the very word sounds mischievously exotic), I know newcomers to Chichester are going to have a wonderful whale of a time.

Liz White makes her Chichester debut as Joy Gresham. Her many TV series include Life on Mars, Ackley Bridge and The Halcyon; theatre includes Electra (Old Vic), Port and A Woman Killed with Kindness (National Theatre).

What attracted you to the role of Joy Gresham?

I saw the film of Shadowlands years ago. She is immediately striking. Not least because in a room surrounded by men, in 1952 she asserts herself as an equal. She is not intimidated by their gender or status and she speaks with integrity about her relationship with the world around her. I admired her directness and her wit.

How are you preparing for the role?

It is a rare treat to have so much information about a character. I am reading her book of poems which includes sonnets she wrote about Lewis and some of her essays, including The Longest Way Round, which describes her journey from Judaism to Atheism, to Communism then to Christianity. She was a tenacious seeker and as such she wasn’t intimidated by change. She was a great critic which could cause offence amongst her literary peers but she judged herself with the same scrutinous eyes. Looking back over her life, she made many impulsive changes that ultimately led to her and Lewis being so in love.

This is your first time performing at CFT. What are you most looking forward to?

I love working on stage. The whole process is very special. I always find day one of rehearsals pretty mind-blowing. All the different departments meet, all clutching the same document, inspired to make something brilliant and unique and worthy of dragging people out of the house for. Chichester Festival Theatre has an incredible reputation. I am really honoured to be a part of such an exciting production.

Shadowlands runs from 26 April to 25 May in the Festival Theatre

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