'REAL life hasn't happened yet, this is just the Shadowlands," CS Lewis says, as he reminds those around him, and himself, that this life is a mere shadow of the eternal one.

Shadowlands, at Salisbury Playhouse until Saturday, tells the story of how the author fell in love at the age of 58 with a sparky, opinionated American poet called Joy - 17 years his junior.

But the academic's convictions are sorely tested when his wife gets cancer.

Finely acted, Stephen Boxer brought gravitas and humour to the role of CS Lewis who wrote the Narnia books and Christian apologetic novels like The Screwtape Letters, as well as non-fiction work.

Amanda Ryan, playing Joy Gresham, was wonderful as the archetypal American who blew the cobwebs away surrounding the comfortable existence of the scholar.

Her physical descent into frailty when she gets cancer is masterfully portrayed as is her patient manner with the reserved Lewis, who not only has to do battle with his emotions, and his faith, in realising he loves Joy but also, when he loses her.

Denis Lill, endearing as Warnie, is full of strength, concern and a hint of mischief.

From the opening scene, involving a lecture at Oxford University on God, love, pain and suffering - the production envelopes the audience, being far more than mere entertainment. It was challenging, absorbing, enlivening.

Scene changes were simple and speedy with key furniture on wheels transforming a college into a cosy home scene, and a hospital room into the sunny climes of Greece.

And lighting was used to great effect with a magical wonderland appearing behind windows at one point - a tribute to Lewis' book The Magician's Nephew.

Written by William Nicholson, the play was turned into a film starring Anthony Hopkins in 1993.

The 2016 national tour of Shadowlands is produced by Birdsong Productions and directed by Alastair Whatley.

Highly recommended.