Theatr Clwyd, Yr Wyddgrug – until Saturday March 4th 2023
Reviewed by Julie Noller
The Shawshank Redemption is well known firstly as the book written in 1982 by Stephen King and then as the 1994 film topping IMBDs all time list. The fact that I had neither read the book or watched the film did not detract from the buzz of attending an opening night. I read a synopsis before attending; I knew it had a cult following. It’s a gritty life tale of a man wrongly convicted for his wifes and her lovers murders. It smacks of desperation, injustice, friendship and more importantly of hope. It is dark and sadistic in it’s approach to human nature in Americas deep south chain gang jails.
It has been adapted for the stage by Owen O’Neil and Dave Johns. Sound by Andy Graham, Lighting Designed by Chris Davey and Design by Gary McCann all deserve a round of applause; the lighting is dark at times with bulbs and slight flashes of light (remember we’re starting life in 1950’s America) set design is basic and grey as drab and lifeless as the jail comes to life in your mind. The sounds however are so clever, snippets of songs break down the fact that years have passed in seconds, words from songs saying what we are all thinking whilst hinting at a wittyness that brings a snigger from the audience.
Ben Onwukwe is brilliant as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding with flashes of Morgan Freeman, he narrates setting the scene, highlighting the story just so we the audience know where we are. He is the go to man, the black marketer, desperatly trying to keep his head above the water. Doing just enough to stay off the Wardens radar. Add the innocent accountant Andy Dufresne the perfectly cast Joe Absolom it’s an intriguing mix of personalities. Joe brings optimism to the stage as Andy encourages others to believe as he has to believe in his innocence. Andy is quietly intelligent using his skills of reading his fellow inmates and guards to boost the confidence of those work colleagues as he sees his life behind bars The warden belives he has manipulated Andy but the strength in intelligence is to let him think that. For the people watchers out there for me The Shawshank Redemption was less about story and more about people. Watching the characters develop was the highlight for me, like a Big Brother within Jail. Andy is intelligent and wise refusing to let the system win, not giving in to the sisters who constantly abuse and beat him. It fascinated me how similar the characters could be yet worlds apart. The repeat offenders, the lifetimers, the abusers, Prison Guards. Stephen King deserves the accolades for such characters full of depth, woe and bitterness but amongst them all he drives home the message that we should never give up hope.
Mark Heenehan is hated as Warden Stammas the man who uses many a cliché to line his own pokets, his prison from the top the bottom is corrupt and is everything we have seen across the movie world of the mid 20th century jail system. A man so cowardly he commits suicide rather than face the consequences for his actions. We all know the ending however as always you want the happy ending long for Andy’s innocence to be proved. This production however much you wish for doesn’t deliver on that wish, it does however deliver the hero not quite driving but looking at the sunset soaking in the warm sun rays by the sea, a fugitive wanted still but its cheery to see and we can ultimately forgive that injustice. There are many messages within The Shawshank Redemption each and every one of us I believe would draw something entirely different. It is a story of greed and abuse, of hope and fear but it teaches us to never given up on all our dreams for what is life without dreams.