Latest Review – The Shawshank Redemption [The Lowry] [UK Tour]

THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION

The Lowry, Salford Quays

Until Saturday 10th September, 2016

Back in 1982 Stephen King published his hugely acclaimed Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas that saw King move away from the horror genre for a short while and instead explore more serious, dramatic themes, all tied together with subtitles relating to each of the four seasons. That collection gave us three short stories that have since been turned into acclaimed motion pictures: The dark, blackmail thriller, Apt Pupil, released in 1998 and directed by Bryan Singer; The Body, the basis for Rob Reiner’s landmark 1986 coming-of-age adventure drama, Stand By Me; and Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, which became Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, now considered to be one of the greatest films of all time (despite box office disappointment upon release).

It is important to note that Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns new stage adaptation is an adaptation of that original novella and not the subsequent film adaptation, so die hard fans of the film expecting a line-for-line stage reproduction might find themselves ever so slightly disappointed as it is at times rather different in style and tone. That is by no means a criticism of this new stage version; on the contrary it is a very strong adaptation and works very effectively, but keep in mind that you are seeing a fairly faithful stage rendering of the source text and not the big screen version, so go in with an open mind and prepare to be impressed by something a little different to what most people might be expecting.

At the heart of the story is successful banker Andy Dufresne, a man convicted of the brutal murder of his wife and her lover, and sent to Shawshank State Penitentiary to serve a double life sentence, despite continued protests of innocence. Immediately aware that no one can survive the ‘Shank’ alone, Andy soon strikes up an unlikely friendship with the prison fixer Ellis ‘Red’ Redding in order to endure in the face of sadistic guards, a gang of prison rapists known as ‘The Sisters’ and the corrupt, remorseless, Bible spouting Warden Stammas, an apparently pious, devout Christian intent on bullying and exploiting Andy for his financial talents.

Ben Onwukwe and Paul Nicholls head the cast in fine style as narrator ‘Red’ and Dufresne respectively, and refreshingly move firmly away from direct impressions of their big screen counterparts Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the production is in just how different the characteristics of the central characters are in comparison to the duo presented in the film. Nicholls’ Dufresne is presented as a much tougher and scrappier version of the character, and a far cry from the shy, shuffling, gentle giant Tim Robbins conveys on screen. Likewise Onwukwe’s Red often sidelines the wise, laid back sage that Freeman brings across, instead opting for a overall slightly more aggressive and feisty approach, though still with glimmers of the warmth and wisdom underneath the tougher exterior. The highly experienced Jack Ellis is another standout as the villainous Warden Stammas.

Director David Esbjornson’s production is highly impressive its close examination of friendship, desperation and extreme injustice, but there is definitely scope to develop things further to create a greater sense of claustrophobia and desolation. Gary McCann’s cold cell block set serves very well as the backdrop for the action but if anything it could afford to be utilised a little more. Using the upper balcony more often would just add a greater sense of height and dimension to the staging (metaphorically and quite literally) and the upstage cell block wall feels slightly underused.

All in all, The Shawshank Redemption offers up a refreshing and exhilarating new interpretation of a much loved text and film. Excellent ensemble performances and a bold, invigorating staging render it a must see production for theatre, film and literature fans alike.

Running Time: 2 hours and 5-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.

Final Performance at The Lowry, Salford Quays: Saturday 10th September, 2016.

For more information, and to book tickets, please Click Here.

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