The Shawshank Redemption

Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption is listed as IMBD’s top rated movie of all time. I was therefore keen to see if this stage adaptation of the Stephen King story could live up to the film.

For those of you not familiar with the film, The Shawshank Redemption tells of the inmates at Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary. This includes Red the man who can get you anything, including a rock hammer and posters of the ltest pin-ups and the newest inmate Andy Dufresne. Dufresne is an intelligent man who consistently protests his innocence. The Warden soon discovers and abuses Dufresne’s accountancy ability but despite this these men strike up an unlikely friendship.

The film succeeds in part due to the perfect casting and the fact that you really invest in the characters. Ben Onwukwe played ‘Red’ in the play and despite having Morgan Freeman’s big boots to fill he managed to evoke his character well and got me to really feel for him. His accent was consistent although in some of the more softly spoken moments I did struggle to hear all of what he was saying.

Paul Nicholls played the part of Andy Dufresne. Nicholls was solid in the part however I found that I didn’t really warm to him and wasn’t really rooting for him to get out of Shawshank. The converse applied to Jack Ellis who played Warden Stammas who I didn’t loathe enough until right towards the end of the show.

The supporting characters of Tommy and Brooksie were played by Nicholas Banks and Andrew Boyer respectivly. Both of them established their character well however the surrounding inmates at times were difficult to distinguish from one another in their personality.  Part of the issue here is that due to the size of the venue a lot of the facial expression can be missed, unlike the film there are no cameras there ready for the close up. This play could work better in a more intimate theatre.

The grittier moments of the play such as the rape scene were however well directed and at times uncomfortable watching, which was exactly what it needed. I would have liked to have seen more of this throughout the show and the tension built up.  Some of the deaths were underplayed and lacked the tension that the rape scene had.

The stage is encompassed by the high prison walls. Smaller scenes within the warden’s office or in a cell are just played out in front of this with a simple flat flown in for the scene. This setting helps the mood of the piece and allows the drama to flow naturally. The lighting enhances this brilliantly, giving the impression of small cells without a change of scenery being needed or indeed the actor even needing to move.

Whilst the play was solid and overall enjoyable, unfortunately it didn’t live up to the emotion I felt in the film. I appreciate that the play and the film should be considered in their own rights but when the film is as iconic as The Shawshank Redemption, naturally people will compare.

I saw The Shawshank Redemption at the Churchill Theatre on the 31st October. For more information on this and what else is on at the Churchill Theatre click here.

If this review interested you you may also be interested in my review of the British Tapas they serve at the Churchill Theatre as well as my review of the tour of Pride and Prejudice.

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