The Shawshank Redemption

Malvern Theatres


This brilliant and brutal production is not for the faint-hearted. Its depiction of corruption in a terrible prison in the USA presents us with a violent culture where the prison governor and staff are as cynical and debased as the inmates, most of them convicted, rightly or wrongly, of murder.

We meet a range of characters, some of whom admit the killings they were responsible for. The vile and vicious behaviour of some is accompanied by others who are not vile and evil killers; they are broken and desperate human beings whose tempers and relationships drive them to killings out of impetuous reaction.

The culture of the prison is not geared to rehabilitation; it is a place where the inmates have to play power games, a hell where hope is crushed by the oppressive inhumanity of the system. ‘Hell is right here!’. The description of ‘solitary’ is chilling.

Andy Dufresne arrives in this prison convicted of the double murder of his wife and her lover. He protests his innocence from the outset, but nobody initially believes him. He is a silently resolute and determined individual who has resolved to refuse to be broken and to give up hope. He is educated, a man who understands finance and knows the law; he reads widely and seems culturally separated from the other inmates.

Joe Absolom is excellent as Andy Dufresne. He exhibits a cool and steely resilience, a positive determination to endure and prevail. His physical stillness is effective.

Ben Onwukwe plays the colourful role of Redding (Red). He is the glue that binds this violent and dysfunctional community and keeps it from total breakdown. He acts at times as the narrator. His performance is masterful.

The cast around these principals is very strong. Mark Heenehan as the Warden Stammas grows in his sinister and self-centred vileness, Leigh Jones (Rooster) with his manic laughter, Joe Reisig (Hadley) in his brutality and Coulter Dittman (as Tommy Williams) on his professional debut are part of this excellent team. Kenneth Jay is moving as the pathetic and pitiable Brooksie, for whom many years in prison have made him incapable of resuming life outside when he gets parole.

From the moment the curtain rises, we are powerfully struck with the stark and cold set designed by Gary McCann, a set which is skilfully lit by Chris Daley. The dominating volume at times of music, songs and sound effects adds to the force, anger and violence of the action. This is a very complete and impactful play where, through the brutality, there nonetheless runs a thread of hope and resilience.

This raw and powerful piece of theatre is gripping and profound. The violence and profanity make it unsuited to a younger or more tender audience, but it is powerful and is otherwise not to be missed. ‘Only one who has faith is alive.’ To 24-09-22.

Tim Crow


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