Falling in love sometimes happens when you least expect it. The author of the Narnia chronicles, CS Lewis, was a bachelor until he met and married an American fan, Joy Gresham, in 1956, while in his fifties, after they began writing letters to each other.
To start with the pair were just good friends, marrying in name only to avoid Gresham's deportation to the US, but Lewis was soon forced to confront his feelings towards her when she was diagnosed with cancer. His subsequent book A Grief Observed documents his experience of bereavement, when she died in 1960.
The romance has been the subject of moving screen and stage performances ever since. Shadowlands, by William Nicholson, has twice been filmed – once for television in 1985, starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom, and again in 1993 for the big screen with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. Nicholson's work was also adapted into a play in 1990, starring Nigel Hawthorne as Lewis and Jane Lapotaire as Gresham.
It is now Charles Dance's turn to play Lewis opposite Janie Dee as Gresham, in a revival of Nicholson's play.
Dee is more used to comedy: she played Beatrice in Peter Hall's 2005 production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, and won Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics' Circle awards for her performance in Alan Ayckbourn's Comic Potential in the West End in 2000.
However, she is relishing the change of pace required for her new role: "I watched the Shadowlands film and I loved it," says Dee. She has also been avidly reading all of Lewis's books as part of her research, as well as Brian Sibley's biography of Lewis, which also documents the love story.
"I come at the character from my own perspective, but I agree with Debra Winger's interpretation. Joy was a very intelligent and feisty woman who had to be true to herself. She had a great strength of character and a hidden loneliness. My heart went out to her. She was a real human being, which makes it very exciting to play the role."
30 October to 15 December (0870 950 0925)Reuse content