Review: The Great Divorce (Flight Path Theatre)

Venue: Flight Path Theatre (Marrickville NSW), Sep 25 – Oct 5, 2019
Playwright: Roslyn Hicks (based on the novel by C. S. Lewis)
Director: Richard Woodhouse
Cast: Peter David Allison, Hannah Forsyth, Jamey Foxton, Roslyn Hicks, Jessica Kelly, Emily Pollard, Isaac Reefman, Richard Woodhouse

Theatre review
Lewis finds himself in hell, but not permanently it seems, as the gates to heaven remain open, to the possibility of repentance. He witnesses a series of debates, between the ghosts of hell and spirits of heaven, about where one would choose to reside. C. S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, adapted for the stage by Roslyn Hicks, is a work of the Christian tradition, fundamentally reliant on binary concepts, but is nonetheless valuable with the many philosophical ideas it raises. At its best, the writing is transcendental and inspiring, but it can also bear a sanctimonious attitude to its representations that, predictably perhaps, proves grating.

Directed by Richard Woodhouse, the split between heaven and hell, is dramatically amplified. There is certainly no ambiguity permitted in the staging, and we always know who the us and them are, in The Great Divorce. Provocative discussions are depicted in a slightly too obvious manner, as if fearful that its essential beliefs could ever be misconstrued. Eight actors ranging from bombastic to the excessively dry, present a big roster of characters, with lead performer Isaac Reefman’s unassuming approach as Lewis, often seeming deficient in confidence. There is however, a quality of sincerity in all of the cast, that helps to sustain our attention.

The title of the piece reveals heaven and hell as human constructs, and the need some may have, not only for clear distinctions about the nature of the afterlife, but also for guiding doctrines that pertain to the here and now. C. S. Lewis presents his arguments in convenient dichotomies, although it is clear that these supposedly opposing thoughts exist in a singular mind. We observe the struggles in The Great Divorce, understanding that things are presented in the form of good and bad, but there is no denying our ability to easily identify with both sides. Faith is necessary because doubt is interminable, just as heaven cannot exist without hell.