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BrumHour saw The Shawshank Redemption at the invite of The Alexandra.
By David Fox twitter.com/DavidFoxTheatre
Review: The Shawshank Redemption at The Alexandra
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A real, must-see, theatrical event!
Directed by David Esbjornson and Tim Welton, adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns
Stephen King is one of the most popular authors in the world – having written over 100 books and short story collections. You may be familiar with his as purely a writer of the horror genre, but his range is so much more than that. I must admit to being a little biased as King is one of my favourite authors and think The Shawshank Redemption is amongst his finest work.
Published as Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption in 1982 in the short-story collection Different Seasons (which also bought us more excellent stories in The Body filmed as Stand By Me, and Apt Pupil) Shawshank was turned into a critically acclaimed film in 1994 starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. While it was nominated for seven Academy Awards, surprisingly it didn’t win in any category!
This week a new acclaimed production adapted especially for the stage arrives in Birmingham for the final week of a nationwide tour at The Alexandra – and it is amazing!
Andy Dufresne is framed for a crime he does not commit – the murder of his wife and her lover. Protesting his innocence Andy is incarcerated for a double life sentence at the notorious Shawshank prison. Where every day is a struggle for survival – Andy’s only solace and thought of life outside the prison is a poster of screen siren Rita Hayworth. Andy forms a friendship with the prison fixer ‘Red’, and his everyday life becomes more bearable. However, when the bullying and cruel Warden Stammas decides to exploit Andy’s talents for accountancy, a desperate and secret escape plan is quietly hatched.
The Shawshank Redemption has a fantastic ensemble cast! Led by ex-EastEnders and Doc Martin actor Joe Abslolom stars as Andy Dufresne, and London’s Burning’s Ben Onwukwe who also stars as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding.
One of my favourite performances was Kenneth Jones as Brooksie, the elderly librarian, so regimented by a life behind bars in Shawshank, he struggles to adapt once he is beyond the walls. The stand-out performance for me was Ben Onwukwe as ‘Red’, who was simply fantastic. Acting as the narrator for the majority of the play Onwukwe felt like your best friend guiding you through the daily grind of life at Shawshank – sometimes funny, sometimes horrific – and presented the vulnerability, despair, and real humanity of the piece. A truly excellent performance which made me root for the underdog!
The technical aspects of this production were also fantastic. Use of old-time music, transitioning to pop and 60s rock and roll really helped indicate the passage of time, and make you realise just how much of their lives the men had spent in Shawshank. The stage design for this production was brilliant – a versatile set which had many uses as a prison, exercise yard, factory roof, and library. Combined with some atmospheric lighting, you really felt the darkness, oppression, and claustrophobia of Shawshank Prison life.
The play does not shy away from showing the dark side of prison life, and at times was an uncomfortable watch, but this is juxtaposed with finding humour in the darkest of places, and it has a lot of heart. One recurring theme throughout the play is that of hope, and – without spoilers – the end of the play left a real impact, both technically and emotionally.
The Shawshank Redemption is a fantastic adaptation of a brilliant story, and a highly recommended production. A real, must-see, theatrical event: The Shawshank Redemption is at The Alexandra, until 12th November 2022. Look out for future tour dates here: kenwright.com. Discover what is coming up at The Alexandra and book tickets using BrumHour’s affiliate link >> HERE <<.