in jail

The Shawshank Redemption

Wolverhampton Grand  


STEPHEN King’s short novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption became an unexpected movie hit in 1994, with many regarding it as one of the greatest films ever made.

The story of Andy Du Fresne, a Portland banker given a life sentence for murder and his consequent close friendship with fellow inmate, Red got off to something of a slow start at the box office.

A second release and huge DVD sales propelled it worldwide and guaranteed it a place in the Hollywood hall of fame.  

No pressure, then, on the writers of this theatre adaptation who have the unenviable task of meeting the sizeable expectations of an audience so familiar with the film.

It may sound obvious, but the differences between theatre and film are huge. They are two separate genres with their own strengths and limitations. Anyone expecting a straight recreation of the film would leave disappointed. It can’t be that, though, and nor should it be.  

Adaptors Owen O’Neil and Dave Johns have kept the key elements of the original screenplay whilst creating more scenes of reflection and expansion to suit the more limited stage surroundings. What is shown, often graphically in thben as Rede film, can only be imagined on stage. In place of cleverly edited shots, comes well constructed dialogue that serve the plot to equal effect.  

Director, David Esbjornson, cleverly brings out the main themes of the play with a stylised approach. Scenes take their time (more so in Act 1) and there is no rush.

We are, after all, in a prison where time is something the inmates have a lot of. On a stark, grey prison set, it’s the characters that quite rightly dominate as their bleak surroundings keep them locked in.

Ben Onwunke who shines as Red, the get anything at a price lifer

That said, any depiction of life ‘inside’ must include flashpoints and they not omitted here. The fights and sexual brutality, all part of the day to day in prison, are included and language, at times, is appropriately strong.  

Gary McCann’s set conveys the bleakness of a tired and functional prison building and serves both interior and exterior locations. An overhead, upstage balcony gives an imposing raised level. Flown in walls quickly provide cells and offices. It’s all very efficient without being over elaborate or clever.  

Ben Onwunke shines as Red, an inmate who can get you whatever you want - for a price. Every prison has one, but probably not as likable as Red. Onwunke delivers dialogue with measured pace and sensitivity - helped in no small measure by his deep and powerful timbre.

Part of the film’s appeal comes from the heart stirring nature of Morgan Freeman’s narration. Here, this takes the form of occasional direct addresses to the audience. Owunke handles these beautifully.  

As the central character, Andy Du Fresne, Paul Nicholls brings an intelligent, thoughtful insight to a man convinced of his innocence and waiting for his moment in the sun.  

Jack Ellis oozes menace as Warden Stammas – a weak man using the ‘Good Lord’ as an excuse to be as cruel as he possibly wants. Comeuppance can’t come too soon for this odious individual.  

In a strong company, Daniel Stewart bullies to good effect as Hadley – a chief guard with more brawn than brain and Andrew Bowyer tugs at heartstrings as Brooksie, a gentle, old man unable to cope with life outside prison.  

Shawshank Redemption will attract an audience on its title alone. There is a huge curiosity factor. Not a bad starting point for getting bums on seats. Once you are able to separate it from the film and treat it as a stand-alone piece of drama, you will be drawn in by it.  

Strong performances and a powerful story. It might not be what you expected but you will be glad you came.  To 01-10-16

Tom Roberts


. . . A note of praise too, for the Grand Theatre. Any theatre experience, in my view, starts as you walk through the main entrance. The best venues work hard on the experience they offer customers and clearly The Grand knows this. A new front of house refurb, mood lighting and an altogether more ‘theatrical’ feel make a real difference . . . 


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