Tag Archives: The Shawshank Redemption

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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Prison Visit

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.

Andy Dufresne (Ian Kelsey) makes his move. (Photo: Mark Yeoman)

Andy Dufresne (Ian Kelsey) makes his move. (Photo: Mark Yeoman)