An Evening with C.S. Lewis, starring David Payne
An Evening with C.S. Lewis – the year is 1963 and C.S. Lewis, the famous British author, is hosting a group of American writers at his home near Oxford. They are about to experience a captivating evening with a man whose engaging conversation and spontaneous humor made him one of the great raconteurs of his day.
Seated in his living room and in front of a warm fire he recalls the people and events that inspired his thought and shaped his life; of his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien; why he nearly abandoned the Narnia Chronicles; how he came to embrace Christianity and of the American woman who turned his life upside down.
Described by critics as ‘Extraordinary!’ ‘A Must See!’ ‘A Master Class!’ An Evening with C.S. Lewis has proved again and again to be an enthralling theatrical experience and one which has led many thousands to discover (or rediscover) the continuing impact of a man who died over 50 years ago and whose collected works made him one of the literary giants of the 20th Century.
“Auditions for Shadowlands, British accents a help!” So read an advert for this theatrical production to be staged at Nashville’s prestigious Tennessee Performing Arts Center (TPAC) in 1996. Payne, who had never been on stage before but who did have a British accent decided to audition hoping for a minor part. He staggered everybody (including himself) when he won the lead role of C.S. Lewis. Though he did not know it at the time, a successful acting career had been launched! The TPAC production sold out, Lewis’ stepson Douglas Gresham flew in for the opening night and director, Sylvia Boyd, said of Payne afterwards, “I took a chance on someone who had never acted before but was rewarded with a performance of great power and sensitivity – I felt we had found the real C.S. Lewis!”
During rehearsals for Shadowlands Payne was given a copy of A Grief Observed, Lewis’ diary of grief following the death of his American wife, Joy. Captivated by the brutal honesty of a man bearing his soul, Payne memorized the whole book and then adapted it into a one-man show Mist in the Mourning. Premiered at TPAC, where all three performances sold out, he then toured this production extensively throughout the US. Following these performances, Payne was very often peppered with lots of questions about Lewis. He was always very happy to answer these questions and then one day, a thought struck him. “Wouldn’t it be fun if Lewis himself could answer these questions.” That’s when he wrote An Evening with C.S. Lewis, basing the show around the questions that people kept asking and the pivotal occurrences in Lewis’ life. Now it has become his flagship production with over 500 performances.
Payne’s first encounter with C.S. Lewis was when, as a teenager, he was given a copy of Lewis’ best-selling book Screwtape Letters. Little did he realize that some 40 years later he would be gaining a reputation for his portrayals of its famous author. He has played Lewis in a number of productions of Shadowlands, in his self-penned Weep for Joy, in numerous presentations of An Evening with C.S. Lewis (My Life’s Journey) and St. Jack & The Dragon a touching yet sometimes hilarious account about the relationship between Lewis and his adopted mother, Janie Moore. It was his re-reading of Screwtape Letters that inspired him to write the musical Target Practice. Set in the academy of Fiends, this energetic show features a cantankerous professor (Payne) attempting to teach unruly junior fiends on the art of tripping up Targets (humans).