THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, Monday 28th September, 2015
Stephen King’s novella gave rise to one of the most popular films of all time. For this new touring production, Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns return to the film’s source material and adapt it for the stage. Film fans will notice differences – inevitable, given the differing natures of the art forms. That said, O’Neill and Johns do a bang up job with this story of prison life.
Red (Patrick Robinson) is our part-time narrator in this sparsely populated penitentiary (over-crowding is no problem in Shawshank!) introducing us to a lively bunch of characters, not all of them pleasant. There is Leigh Jones’s Rooster who laughs like a maniacal drain every chance he gets. Rooster is teamed with Bogs (Kevin Mathurin) to form a pair who stop at nothing to assert their dominance among the men. We met Brooksie (Ian Barritt) an old lag completely institutionalised by his lengthy sentence, and Lady Chatterley fan Rico (Declan Perring). Then newcomer Andy Dufresne arrives, wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. Dufresne stands out – Ian Kelsey gives him a stillness and steadiness, making him a quietly compelling figure among the other, larger-than-life inmates.
Adaptor Owen O’Neill himself plays the slimy Warden Stammas, backed up by brutal guard Hadley (Joe Reisig). It’s an excellent ensemble, with Robinson and Kelsey as very strong leads. Also making an impression is George Evans as young convict Tommy Williams.
The story is episodic in nature, building up a picture of prison life and charting Andy Dufresne’s growing stature among the inmates, the guards (for whom he files tax returns) and the Warden (for whom he cooks the accounts). Unless the characters mention it, we don’t really get a sense of the passage of time but nevertheless the story builds to an emotional climax that still brings moistness to the eye.
Director David Esbjornson mixes naturalistic staging with symbolic – Andy’s escape (oops, spoiler) is beautifully represented and, supported by Chris Davey’s lighting, which marks out cells in sharp rectangles, and Dan Samson’s sound, which hints at hordes of prisoners somewhere off-stage, hits all the right notes.
Shawshank Prison is well worth a visit.