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Review: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Richmond Theatre

A strong cast and clever staging creates a gripping show

Review: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Richmond Theatre

Review: THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, Richmond Theatre Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption was made into the film which was unsuccessful at the box office in 1994, but went on to become one of the best-loved films of all time.

Because of this, it an inevitably high bar for any stage play to live up to the film, particularly as the characters of Andy and Red are forever associated with the captivating performances by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. However, David Esbornson's touring production is clever, deftly staged and quietly moving.

The story follows a banker named Andy Duphrane who's wrongfully convicted of killing his wife and her lover and is sent to The Shawshank maximum security prison. Among the abuse, violence and despair Andy realises he cannot cope alone and in comes the light of humanity and friendship from popular inmate Ellis 'Red' Redding.

Owen O'Neill and David Johns' adaptation balances a story that could become unrelenting in its darkness, bringing wry humour in at crucial moments. The sense of abandonment and social exclusion is set against the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

This is an excellent cast who really draw you into the emotional heft of the story. Ben Onwukwe takes clear inspiration from Morgan Freeman as Red'; intensely likable as both narrator and character within his own story, despite revealing the violence of the crime that put him behind bars. Joe Absolom plays Andy with meditative thoughtfulness, hands often clasped behind his back or a hand cupped under his chin, quietly delivering his gnomic lines. The pair have a lovely chemistry; often spiky and sometimes awkward, but always sincere.

'The Sisters', who trade on fear are portrayed well as a stalking, menacing force by Jay Marsh and Leigh Jones, who sparks real unease by his unhinged laughing. As corrupt Warden Stammas, Mark Heenehan commands the stage with his booming intonation and physical presence.

Esbjornson's direction creates an immersive experience, creating interest in every scene. A few things don't quite work; fight scenes lack sufficient speed and authenticity and the pace dips towards the end of the play as Red goes on his quest to find Andy.

The production looks great and brims with authenticity; sound designer Andy Graham uses the haunting sounds of echoing corridors and dripping water that combine with Chris Davey's steely lighting design to give an eerie portrayal of the interior of the prison.

Gary McCann's clever staging is stark, with looming prison walls, filthy dank corners and a sense of suffocation. Scenes are deftly changed as tables roll in to create a dining room, or a wall is dropped down to create Andy's cell. It is refreshing to see so much effort in a touring production and deserves to be seen by a huge audience.

The Shawshank Redemption is at Richmond Theatre until 4 February, then touring

Photo Credit: Jack Merriman

Review: YOU ARE GOING TO DIE, VAULT Festival Photo
You are going to die. It’s a certainty, but it’s also the title of the latest play by This is Not Culturally Significant writer Adam Scott-Rowley. Performed entirely naked, You Are Going To Die is a show about everything and nothing. You can read as much or as little as you wish in it. What does it deal with? We’d love to know - we came out of it with more questions than answers. It feels like a social experiment or an impenetrable piece of performance art. It might just be simply throwing stuff at a wall to see what sticks.

Review: FREAK OUT!, VAULT Festival Photo
Coin Toss Collective are an exceptionally creative young company. Freak Out! highlights a problem that wouldn’t cross the mind of the average British person who lives in the inland. They deliver an amusing, chaotic farewell to East Anglia. Who would’ve thought that a show about coastal erosion would be so cool!

Review: VANILLA, VAULT Festival Photo
Laura Mead writes with prudish humour while Keith Swainston directs her, Ned Wakeley (Dan), and Scott Henderson in a production that’s almost as uninteresting as Katie and Dan’s sex life. Mead’s script is as traditional as the missionary position, but wishes to be as funny as an inappropriate joke at a funeral. She gives her character a silver tongue and wit for days, and she’s great at delivering too, but the plot is awkwardly stale in its predictability.

Review: BURNOUT, VAULT Festival Photo
This approach has the story losing focus and looks like a plain attempt at quirkiness. Ultimately, while they mention how difficult it is to have only one hour, the piece comes off as struggling to fill those 60 minutes. All in all, the spirit of Burnout is strong and the creatives behind it have all the right ideas. Perhaps a stronger grasp on a more developed plot might help this naive call to arms.

From This Author - Aliya Al-Hassan

Aliya Al-Hassan is UK Managing Editor of BroadwayWorld. A London-based theatre critic and journalist, she has a life-long passion for the arts, with a focus on theatre and opera. She is a... (read more about this author)

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