★★| Andy Dufresne, a quiet and mild mannered banker, arrives at Shawshank Prison after being convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. As he settles into his new life, he befriends old timer, Red, the prisoner fixer and a man who is known to “acquire certain items from time to time”. Andy splits his time between maintaining his innocence, carving rocks, avoiding the violent “sisters” (a predatory gang of sexually violent inmates) and trying to improve the lives of those around him. But when Andy overhears a conversation between two of the guards, he is provided with opportunity which he simply cannot pass up.Picture Credit – Mark Yeoman
The Shawshank Redemption is based on the Stephen King novella, and the 1994 film of the same name. The film has gone on to become one of the nation’s favourites, and with this in mind, the stage show has some big prison-issue boots to fill. The static set is reflective of the prison setting, with its tall, oppressive walls towering over the proceedings; and it’s bland, dreary appearance is being quite befitting for the fictional prison. In the book and the film, the story of Dufresne’s time in Shawshank is one which is filled with optimism and hope; and it is the contrast of that emotional warmth juxtaposed with the cold starkness of the confines of the prison walls which works so well.
Paul Nicholls (Eastenders) leads the cast as Andy Dufresne, with TV stalwart Ben Onwukwe (Eastenders, London’s Burning, Coronation Street) playing Red, both of whom gave functional performances without ever really capturing the refinement of the two lead characters or their relationship. The remainder of the cast, sadly, seemed to replace acting with shouting, leading to some rather unsubtle performances; with only Jack Ellis in his portrayal of the Warden and Nicolas Banks as Tommy ever really finding their feet.
Adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns, the script is choppy and never seems to gather momentum or develop into having any natural flow, with somewhat clunky transitions from one plot development to the next. Rather than allowing the drama to play out on stage, comedic moments are added to scenes of tension, which had the audience laughing when they should have been on the edge of their seats, lessoning the impact of the story and the events portrayed. Whilst the story does not shy away from the harsh reality of prison life, David Esbjornson’s direction is as bland as the prison walls and as heavy handed as the prison guards themselves, often leaving much to the imagination and hinting at the acts of violence rather than portraying them.
The show is a bold attempt to bring to life something which is so well loved, but as much as it pains me to say it, the writing, acting and direction all had their own issues which meant that they never really came together; and whilst some of the audience clearly enjoyed the show, for me personally, it simply didn’t work.
The Shawshank Redemption is currently winding up its national tour. The show was reviewed at Sheffield Theatres (www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk ), who are soon hosting the world premiere of a new musical based on the BBC3 show “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16” Search #TalkingAboutJamie.