The Shawshank Redemption

Adapted by Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns from the short story by Stephen King
Bill Kenwright
The Lowry, Salford

Earlier cast picture from The Shawshank Redemption Credit: Mark Yeoman

The wave of '80s/'90s nostalgia currently washing over TV and cinema screens should assure this stage production of success.

The original film of the prison drama, adapted from a Stephen King short story, consistently appears amongst Top Ten lists, and the only thing that dates this theatre adaptation is that its central character is an innocent banker—and where are you going to find one of those nowadays?

Then again, the whole story turns on the premise that there is honour amongst thieves, murderers and others incarcerated in Shawshank, a tough US prison, and only heartlessness, sadism and corruption on the part of its prison governor and his staff.

It’s also a legend that depends on its audience suspending disbelief at a massive coincidence introduced in act two.

Paul Nicholls is Andy Dufresne (the Tim Robbins role in the movie). The one-time EastEnders eye candy gives a suitably restrained performance as a dignified man falsely imprisoned for murder.

It is a measure of director David Esbjornson’s production that no one character is too overdrawn, although Ben Onwukwe’s Red, the prison fixer and stage narrator of the story, is literally given the spotlight on more than one occasion.

One or two gaps in the lighting design elsewhere suggest this is still a production fresh out of its box and still needs a few more performances to be into its stride. For such a cloistered and claustrophobic setting, it does however work remarkably well even in the cavernous main auditorium here.

The language and depiction of prison violence is suitably uncompromising, and probably more authentic than the film.

A glance at the CV of veteran actor Jack Ellis, another TV face, shows he’s never afraid to play the stage villain, indeed he appears to be the go-to bad guy. His Warden Stammas is unlikely to count amongst his most demanding roles, but it sums up a workmanlike and ultimately satisfying production.

It continues here until Saturday, but returns to the region at Blackpool Opera House later in the autumn.

Reviewer: David Upton

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