The Shawshank Redemption
Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns, based
on Stephen King's novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption
A Bill Kenwright production
Feb 27-March 4; 2 hrs
The Shawshank Redemption is a compelling story about a struggle to survive, then to cultivate and preserve hope in depressingly hopeless circumstances. It grips throughout.
Highly intelligent and successful businessman Andy Dufresne (Joe Absalom), faces the full force of law when he is fitted-up for a murder he didn't commit. He is unable to offer an adequate defence and receives two life sentences in a Draconian, violent prison regime.
A huge step towards survival comes when Andy strikes up a seemingly unlikely friendship with Red, a hardened, cynical prisoner who is also the prison fixer, able to obtain just about anything. Red (the highly convincing Ben Onwukwe), narrates the story and helps Andy to acclimatise, then they help each other to prosper in a difficult environment.
This is a classic story of triumph in adversity and as it is set in prison, acts as a window to the shocking brutality and corruption that seems to be the norm - at least in prison-based movies. It highlights the notion that a prisoner is regarded as the rump of society and deserves their punishment.
Yet a sense of humanity ultimately prevails. Those who deserve it get their comeuppance and Red, Andy and their fellow prisoners reveal their better natures.
A huge problem for this production is the huge success of the 1994 Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins movie. Many will number it as their favourite film, so while it is hardly fair to compare the two productions, this lacks the laconic style of Red and urbane professionalism of Andy. Being confined to the stage, it is also hard to replicate certain dramatic scenes, Andy almost getting thrown off a roof, for example.
But it is important this presentation speaks for itself, and it has several excellent aspects.
The immediacy of the theatre makes this captivating viewing, harnessing as it does the intensity, mundanity and gritty reality of prison life. Mark Heenehan as the warden is chillingly sinister, uncompromising in his attitude.
Though the production lacks the scope of the film, it communicates the story in a memorable way.
Whether you are familiar with the story or not, this is riveting theatre and deserves a wide audience. An original, gripping experience.
Tickets and information here