ReviewSouth East

The Shawshank Redemption – Theatre Royal, Brighton

Reviewer: Simon Topping

Writer: Adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns from the short novel by Steohen King

Director: David Esbjornson

Reviewer: Simon Topping

A solid adaptation of the Stephen King novel and film of the same name; The Shawshank Redemption is a story of innocence, survival and hope.

We first meet Andy Dufresne, naked and resigned to his fate as he, and other new inmates, are “cleaned” and prepped for their life behind bars in the Shawshank penitentiary. New prisoners are called “Fish” and the old hands bet on which of the new arrivals will break first; experienced jailbird, Red Redding (Ben Onwukwe) is convinced it will be Andy. Little does he know the resilience lies within the quiet man.

Red is the play’s narrator. Speaking directly to the audience he explains that Andy barely speaks a word in his first year, until his want of a small rock hammer breaks the silence between the two men. Red is a man who can get things inside. He is a useful person to know and slowly a friendship builds between them.

As the evening develops we find out that Andy, a banker locked up for killing his wife and her lover, strongly prophesises his innocence and has a quiet determination to clear his name.

The piece does not shy away from the brutality of the realities of daily life in prison in the 1950s and 60s. Andy is constantly bothered by the aggressive and dangerous element of Shawshank called “The Sisters”. In a chilling scene he is raped and is often beaten up by inmates and guards alike. Despite horrendous things happening to him Andy focuses his positivity first into campaigning for the building of a library and then, as the years go by, to tutoring a young convict called Tommy (Coulter Dittman); a man who can possibly prove his innocence.

The iconic and highly acclaimed 1994 film is a hard act to follow, however the play does a good job of conveying the key moments of the story well and the stark staging created by Gary McCann does a wonderful job of displaying the bleakness that surrounds the characters.

The writers, Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns, lace the script with humour, where they can with Red getting some of the best comedy lines and laughs from the crowd. The piece does suffer from a feeling that there are a high number of plot points to “get through”, sometimes at the expense of the emotional connection between the characters.

Absolom puts in a good performance as Andy and navigates well the difficult job of portraying the pondering silences and contemplatory moods of the character.

Both Joe Reisig, as guard Hadley, and Mark Heenehan as Warden Stammas play “baddie” roles excellently. Reisig is truly threatening as the psychotic and thuggish guard, quick to anger and unpredictable. Heenehan’s performance is chilling in the opposite way. His stillness makes the character just as menacing as Hadley, if not more so.

Onwukwe as Red steals the show. The character he plays is a loving tribute to Morgan Freeman, who played the role in the film, but never an impersonation. He holds the play together, pulling in the different strands of the story and giving a fine emotional performance.

As the play continues we see how Andy is drawn into using his financial knowledge to benefit the guards and the warden’s corrupt schemes and when his chances of legal release are dashed, he takes matters into his own hands producing a heart warming end to the piece.

The Shawshank Redemption tries to fit too much plot into its short time frame but all in all is well acted and for the most part entertaining and interesting to watch.

Reviewed on 23rd January. Runs till 28th.

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