2020 has become the year where theatre companies and arts festivals have had to rethink their output, diversify and use their honed creativity to think outside the box. The EastSide Arts festival has done just that with their triumphant 11-day programme which only ended yesterday with a Dragtastic Wrap Party. They have achieved what many would have thought to be unachievable. In the year that the Edinburgh Fringe Festival was cancelled and most NI Theatres still remain closed, they have presented Art via Zoom, social distanced theatre in shopping centres, online story-telling, wonderful live streamed musical moments and virtual tours. Health and Safety was a priority but the joy of an arts festival was not lost.

One of my highlights of the festival was attending the outdoor rehearsed reading “Late Lewis: Beyond Narnia” written by Trevor Gill, artistic director of the Bright Umbrella Theatre Company. On a beautifully hot Saturday we sat in our assigned social distanced seats in the CS Lewis Square in Lewis’ birthplace of East Belfast.

With a monument of Aslan the Lion behind us the performers took to the stage to tell us of the life and times of CS Lewis known as Jack to his friends and family.
The story focuses on his relationship with his brother Warnie Lewis (played by Wilson McNair), his early life and education and his later life with wife Joy Davidman (played by Tanja Jennings). Narrated by Christine Clarke who also peppers the reading with a few of Lewis’s well known literature characters (which gets the biggest laughs) the story gives a brief but in-depth view of the famous writers life. Poignant passages are punctuated with a little musical interlude where players tap, dance and interact with each other, which can’t help but make you smile.

The audience get lost in the story and the highs, lows, woes and criticism of Lewis. We laughed and by the end where almost in tears. Even with a few interruptions from an overhead plane landing at city airport, a police car and some raucous kids on scooters we are embraced by the texts and the site specific nature just added to the fun.

My only criticism is at points I felt like I was sitting in the National watching Shakespeare, the East Belfast feel had been lost. This isn’t a bad thing and probably comes from the RSC background of the artistic director and the lead actor (Chris D’Arcy who played Lewis) who both have RSC credits but I would loved to have gotten a few regional accents mixed into the text amongst the RP.

Overall it was a positive performance athough the players were reading their scripts they made the words come to life with physicality and lyrical prowess. I would love to see this developed, work shopped and produced into a full production and I look forward to what the Bright Umbrella Company have in store for the rest of 2020!

Emer D xx