The Shawshank Redemption
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 21 January 2023
Stephen King's short novel, that became a 1994 sleeper movie hit has been adapted by Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns into a fine stage production. It has landed in Newcastle this week and the tale of a small group of men in an old overcrowded Maine penitentiary went down well on opening night.
|(L-R) Ben Onwukwe, Kieran Garland, Joe Absolom, Jules Brown, Jay Marsh|
Andy Dufresne finds himself in the prison serving 2 life terms for murdering his wife and her tennis coach lover. King's story doesn't head down the well trodden path showing the struggle to adapt in the transition from life as a professional banker to a confined criminal. Joe Absolom's representation of Dufresne is a confident assured man who is focussed on his destiny. An individual who has hope.
|(L-R) Joe Absolom, Leigh Jones, Jay Marsh|
Support in his survival comes from Ellis "Red" Redding, a man who struggles with probation panels as he is known as the man how can, within reason, get you any supplies. Normally dealing with smokes and toothbrushes Red is surprised at Dusfresne's interest in geology and he duly supplies him with a small rock hammer. In this production Ben Onwukwe, as Red, also acts occasionally as narrator - though the level of exposition in kept to the minimum as the pair survive 20 years in a prison. A strong clue that the world outside is changing is derived from the music clips that are slotted in.
|(L-R) Joe Absolom, Leigh Jones, Jay Marsh, Ben Onwukwe|
There are a range of other characters: prison warden Stammas (Mark Heenehan) and prison guard Hadley (Joe Reisig) who want to exploit Dufresne's book keeping experience; Librarian Brooksie (Kenneth Jay) who initially has very few resources and people like Tommy (Coulter Dittman) - who hopes to pass his school exams.
|Ben Onwukwe, Joe Absolom|
|Mark Heenehan, Joe Absolom|
But the reason why the film picked up popularity on video is that it is very much a human story. This adaptation focusses on that human element. Director David Esbjornson and designer Gary McCann strip away any unnecessary staging to leave an almost Shakespearean setting. A deceptively simple space overlooked by platform allows the characters to develop. Chris Davey's lighting picking out the action.
The second act is when the action picked up. The script has a sense of dark humour which resonated with many in the audience.
This is a great start to the Theatre Royal's year. There was a a genuine warmth from the audience as they applauded at the end. The combination of a well written script and a talented ensemble cast combine to create a rewarding theatrical experience. I had been looking forward to this show and I wasn't disappointed.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Jack Merriman
The Shawshank Redemption plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Tuesday 17 – Saturday 21 January 2023. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or by calling 0191 232 7010.