C. S. Lewis is sort of perceived as being “classical music” and a bit high brow. I think our production is going to prove to be a bit “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
So states Producer and Adapter Paul McCaster in one of the Behind the Scenes Featurettes on the Bonus DVD. A reference to what some have called the “Devil’s Music,” or the fact that Rock seems to speak to the common man more than Beethoven or Bach? Well, both ideas apply.
C. S. Lewis wrote The Screwtape Letters as a weekly series for The Guardian in 1941, and the 31 epistles were published as a book in 1942. The Focus on the Family Radio Theatre Edition has just been released, and is available online and in bookstores throughout the country. It will also be broadcast on the radio in limited markets this fall. Check with your local Christian radio station to see if it might be broadcast in your area.
This adaptation, billed as the “first-ever full-cast dramatization of the diabolical classic,” is not just another “book on tape.” While Lewis wrote each chapter as a letter from a senior devil, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, this audio version weaves in scenes where the pair of demons meet – both on earth and in Hell. It also adds conversations between the “patient,” John Hamilton (voiced by Olivier Award nominee Philip Bird) and his love interest Dorothy (voiced by Laura Michelle Kelly, who won the Olivier Award for her London stage portrayal of Mary Poppins).
Geoffrey Palmer*, well known British actor, vocalizes the author’s introductory remarks, and Douglas Gresham, Lewis’s step-son, adds some background information and insights of his own.
The highlight of the recording is Andy Serkis in the title role. Serkis is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. The actor has admitted that this role as a senior devil has been the most challenging and taxing portrayal of his career. The difficulty for him was more than just finding the right quality of voice. It also involved delivering Lewis’s often complex sentences in a way that makes sense to the audience. The reader can go back over a text until the meaning is perceived, but the spoken word must be delivered in such a way that the listener immediately comprehends what is being conveyed. Serkis was up to this monumental task.
The Screwtape Letters is an experiment in what Douglas Gresham calls “reverse learning.” The point is to teach the reader or viewer by coming at the issues from the opposite viewpoint. This reverse angle shows how crafty the devil’s lies can be – and how the diabolical logic breaks down under closer examination. Lewis often employs humor to reveal flaws in the devil’s teachings, which the dramatization was able to convey successfully.
But this is more than learning about the strategies of infernal forces, for as a result we also get a good glimpse at ourselves. The discerning listener will also get a better view of God as, not “the enemy,” as Screwtape calls him, but the one who has our best interest at heart.
*Many Americans may recognize Palmer from the PBS reruns of the BBC sitcom “As Time Goes By” with Judi Dench.
For more information, see the official Screwtape Letters Radio Theatre website.