Adapted from the 1982 Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, the classic prison tale is now produced for the stage with a cast of well-known faces taking on the lead roles made famous by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman in the 1994 movie.
It tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life for the murder of his wife and her lover. Despite his claims of innocence, he is incarcerated in the notorious Shawshank State Penitentiary. Learning that no one can survive alone, he befriends a fellow inmate, fixer Ellis Boyd “Red” Redding and finds himself under protection by the guards, until the prison warden takes advantage of Andy’s financial skills for his personal benefit. Andy is trapped in a desperate plan and the story takes an unexpected twist.
Exploring injustice, friendship and hope, the play succeeds in exploring claustrophobic prison life, including scenes of violence, handled as choreography. The tale of friendship dominates the stage, along with struggle against adversity. A quasi-omnipresent music regularly intervenes. It comes as a bonus, balancing moments of tension and release.
Paul Nicholls, best known for his role in Eastenders, captures the internal struggle of Andy Dufresne as he adapts to the high-security Penitentiary. His voice and moves are powerful on stage, his performance is generous and allows the audience to relate naturally to his character’s emotions. His role could not exist without the relationship he shares with Ellis “Red” Redding, played by Ben Onwukwe. Onwukwe easily manages to balance performing his role in the play with addressing the audience to manipulate the tempo of the story. Right from the start, this trick allows a more personal touch, inviting the audience into the action on the stage. The supporting cast enhance the play further, and deftly handle the verbal abuse and aggressive impulses in the script, as well as the comic timing.
For those who don’t know the story, this play is a good start. It might introduce viewers to the book or the classic film, now considered one of the best of all time.