The Screwtape Letters

23 Nov

When I read The Screwtape Letters years ago I loved it. C.S. Lewis is a first-rate Christian apologist and an incomparable stylist.

What is an apologist? Apologists defend the claims of Christianity, but not by a call to faith, but rather by historical evidence, philosophical arguments and the like.

Apologists attempt to make the magical appear possible, the absurd seem reasonable.

What Lewis does in The Screwtape Letters is save the Devil.

What I mean is that he saves the concept of the Devil from contemporary cultural forces that would have us view temptation as exciting and evil as transgressive.

Lewis presents Satan as hell bent, not on some metaphysical concept of damnation, but rather on human misery. As one human soul says, as he finds himself in Hell, I have arrived here by doing neither what I ought nor what I enjoyed.

Screwtape is a senior devil dispensing advice to a junior devil on how to best make the human soul in his charge damnable – that is miserable.

screwtape-11-low-res

Photo by John Leung

It’s a cute conceit, and one of Lewis’ neat tricks is to make Hell a bureaucracy. Sharp letters go back and forth between the departments, and it’s all great fun, but the result is that we’re given some wonderful insights into how we can potentially waste our lives: in sleepwalking habit, in obsession with trivia, in petty vanities. (A simple example: Encourage your human charge to read, suggests Screwtape, though not for enjoyment, but that he may say clever things to his friends.)

There have been several stage adaptations of the book, and this version by director Hailey McQueen works well. This is an achievement; the original source material is not fundamentally dramatic, nor even a dramatic monologue, but rather a set of essays framed in Lewis’ ironic epistolary form.

To make it work, you need a top notch cast, and Yannick Lawry and George Zhao provide the goods. As Screwtape, Lawry is suitably dapper and articulate, classically and coldly reasonable…until provoked. Zhao as Toadpipe gives a wonderful physical performance, his clowning providing the necessary texture which allows us to appreciate Lewis’ rich, beautiful prose.

Do you have to be Christian to enjoy this?

I’m not and I did.

Paul Gilchrist

 

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis (adaptation by Hailey McQueen)

Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Tuesday 22 November- Saturday 10 December, then Melbourne and Canberra.

Tix and info here

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