Tag Archives: Gary McCann

Inside Story

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

Grand Theatre, Wolverhampton, Tuesday 27th September, 2016

 

Stephen King’s story spawned a film, that has proved to be the nation’s favourite, and now this stage adaptation by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns.  Without the scale of the cinematic version, O’Neill and Johns focus on a select group of inmates, showing us their humanity along with the brutality and privations of the system.  I saw it when it toured last year and now it’s doing the rounds again with a new cast, I am more than happy to see it again.

Red is our narrator – Ben Onwukwe channelling Morgan Freeman in a performance that exudes warmth.  He introduces us to the hotheaded Latino Rico (Adam Henderson Scott), bullies Bogs and Rooster (Jeff Alexander and Sean Croke) and old lag Brooksie (Andrew Boyer in a heartbreaking portrayal of institutionalisation).  Into their midst comes Andy Dufresne, a man wrongfully convicted of the murders of his wife and her lover.  Andy is reserved, decent and kind, but this façade conceals a calculating mind.  Former EastEnders star Paul Nicholls gives us a Dufresne that is markedly contrasted with the larger-than-life characters around him, in a quiet, almost underplayed performance – until you see the intensity beneath the surface.  Dufresne is almost a Messiah figure to the others – and we all know how Messiah’s get treated.

Daniel Stewart impresses as the vicious screw Hadley but the villain of the piece is the god-bothering governor, Warden Stammas – a commanding Jack Ellis, oozing evil.

Director David Esbjornson handles moments of tension well, leavening them with humour, while Chris Davey’s lighting aids and abets Gary McCann’s all-purpose set to create different spaces within the prison.  There is violence and brutality, depicted and implied and the escape, when it happens, is presented symbolically – a beautiful moment.  As with last time, I can’t help noting how sparsely populated this prison is.  Pre-recorded voices go some way to give the impression of hordes of inmates off-stage – perhaps something could be done with local volunteers at each venue to flesh out scenes in the exercise yard, for example… I don’t know.

That aside, the play provides a compelling evening, even if you’ve read the book or seen the film countless times.  And the ending packs a punch right to the feels, as King reminds us that hope is a good thing and sometimes it pays off.

Excellent.

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The Truth Hurts

DANGEROUS CORNER

The REP, Birmingham, Monday 3rd November, 2014 

The play begins in darkness.  There is a gunshot and a woman screams..

But the playwright, J B Priestley is playing a trick: the lights come up on a group of women listening to a radio play.  They are soon joined by a dapper bunch of gentlemen in evening dress and a discussion of the broadcast and its theme of truth-telling triggers a series of revelations that tears the group of friends apart.

The play must have been more shocking in its day – we have become somewhat inured to infidelities and all the other transgressions to which the characters lay claim.  Probably too, a 1930s audience might have felt more inclined to like these people but I struggle to find anything likeable in any of them.  They really are a deplorable lot – apart from Olwen Peel (Kim Thomson) but even she has her dark surprises.

Michael Praed seems the most at home in the period setting as debonair cad and bounder Charles Stanton.  His throwaway delivery of sarcastic lines gets plenty of laughs.  Kim Thomson is also excellent as the lovelorn spinster, ably supported by Finty Williams as Freda and by Colin Buchanan as her husband Robert.  I couldn’t take to Gordon (Matt Milne), I’m afraid, whose characterisation seems like a piece gone astray from a different jigsaw puzzle – he doesn’t seem to fit in with the rest.

Gary McCann’s costumes are gorgeous and his sturdy and grandiose art deco set conveys wealth and stability in contrast with the human frailties that are exposed with every passing minute.  It is though a rather static affair, a wordy play where empathy for the characters is replaced by admiration for Priestley’s skills as he piles on disclosure after disclosure to an almost ludicrous degree, before delivering a coup de theatre by sending us all back to start – except this time we are armed with insights and every line is pregnant with dramatic irony.  A twist of fate averts the trigger and the devastating discussion doesn’t happen…

Honesty is not the best policy, the play says.  Lies maintain the veneer of civilisation and keep us ticking along sociably enough.  Perhaps that’s the most immoral revelation of all.

Kim Thomson and Michael Praed (Photo: Robert Day)

Kim Thomson and Michael Praed (Photo: Robert Day)