Press Review: The Shawshank Redemption at The Alexandra Theatre

⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ A powerful piece of theatre

Based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption (which was also the inspiration for the smash-hit 1994 movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman), The Shawshank Redemption has been adapted for a theatre audience in a 2022 UK tour. 

Presented by Bill Kenwright, directed by David Esbjornson and adapted from the novella by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Joe Absolom), who is wrongfully convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover and is sent to the notorious Shawshank facility to start his double life sentence. As he deals with the harsh brutality and cruelty of prison life, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the prison fixer Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Ben Onwukwe). However, when his talents for accountancy are discovered by Warden Stammas (Mark Heenahan), he realises a desperate plan to escape is needed… 

The show opens with a narration from Red, setting the scene and introducing the mild-mannered Andy. Initially portrayed as quiet and rather weak, Andy’s perseverance and intellect allows his characterisation to develop throughout, inevitably becoming a respected and formidable inmate. Unlike Andy, Red is resigned to his situation and is the linchpin of the play, linking many of the characters and scenes together through his narration and relationships with the rest of those on stage. 

Initially, it is perhaps difficult to separate the characters on stage from their movie counterparts, but both Joe Absolom and Ben Onwukwe give convincing and masterful performances throughout, each making the roles entirely their own. 

The supporting cast are well-rounded, with standout performances from the cruel and domineering guard Hadley (Joe Reisig) and Warden Stammas. It is impossible not to root for many of the prisoners, most notably the long-institutionalised librarian Brooksie (Kenneth Jay), the young and hopeful Tommy (Coulter Dittman), who has the power to prove Andy’s innocence and the comedic moments from Rico (Jules Brown) were a welcome interjection.

Anyone who has read the novella or seen the movie will know that the plot that deals with dark themes – prison violence, sexual assault, injustice – which is emphasised beautifully within Gary McCann’s set design – a fixed main set is transformed with the lowering of walls, minimalist furniture changes and props to represent the yard, cells, the warden’s office and the prison library, consistently creating a sense of restriction and being enclosed. Chris Davey’s simple lighting and the use of a spotlight highlight individual pieces of action, while the more graphic violence is done in total blackout, leaving much of it to imagination of the audience.

Perhaps a little confusing was the time-frame in which it takes place. While the plot is set over a period of 20 years, it wasn’t clearly defined – Act 1 could have been ten days or ten years. 

However, anyone who enjoys a truly powerful story, The Shawshank Redemption won’t leave you feeling disappointed. 

The Shawshank Redemption is on stage at The Alexandra Theatre from Monday 7th November – Saturday 12th November. Purchase your tickets here.