The Shawshank Redemption – Gaiety Theatre – Review

The Shawshank Redemption – Gaiety Theatre – Review
1st May. – 13th May.

A Bill Kenwright Production.

Can you name the 95th highest-grossing film of 1994 at the American box office? If you answered The Shawshank Redemption, congratulations, you’re correct! The story of how the film became one of the most loved of all time is an unusual one. The film was released in 1994 to positive reviews. However, it was a box office flop and failed to recoup its $25m budget on its release, making only $16 million from ticket sales. The film was competing with other notable films, such as The Lion King, Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction, which largely dominated the attention of the movie-going public. Whether it was due to a failed marketing campaign or other reasons, The Shawshank Redemption did not get the attention it so richly deserved. Shawshank received seven Academy Awards nominations in 1995 but failed to win in any category. In most cases, a film like this would then sink without a trace. The film was released on video and later on TV, where it slowly gained an audience. It was a slow burn, with many discovering the film long after its release and falling in love with it. Today, it regularly tops audience polls for the ‘Best Films of All Time’!

The play is set in early 1947, in Portland, Maine. Andy Dufresne (Joe Absolom) always claimed he was an innocent man. He was a Banker who was never in trouble with the law previously, but he was arrested for a crime of passion. He was tried and convicted of murdering his wife and her lover and arrived at the Shawshank State Prison to serve two consecutive life sentences. There, he quickly became friends with Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Ben Onwukwe). As you would expect, life behind bars was not easy for Andy and he struggled to adjust to his new life, with a number of dangerous groups seeing him as easy pickings.

The two main actors are probably best known for their roles in English TV. Joe Absolom who plays Andy is known for his role as Matthew Rose in EastEnders. While he doesn’t look like Tim Robbins or your average bank manager, Absolom puts his own spin on the character. He plays Andy as an intense and circumspect individual, who people warm to over time.  Ben Onwukwe plays Ellis ‘Red’ Redding in the play. Ben played Firefighter Stuart ‘Recall’ MacKenzie for many years in London’s Burning. He narrates the play and it is impossible not to compare him to Morgan Freeman with his iconic deep voice. Ben is extremely good in the part and his performance is one of the highlights of the production. The rest of the cast may be less familiar but Warden Stammas is played by Mark Heenehan, who is known for voicing Tinky Winky from the Teletubbies! The purple one, in case you’re wondering. You’ll be happy to know his voice is a lot deeper in this production, as the nasty Warden.

The set is one adaptable space, which is used to create a mess hall, the exercise yard and a variety of other locations required for the play. It has a collection of concrete columns with a walkway for the guards at the upper level. A variety of backdrops descend from the heavens to create offices and cells required for the story. The stage requires a little imagination but it works well.

The obvious question about any stage production of The Shawshank Redemption is why bother? Why tamper with perfection, with the film being as close to it as you can get. The only answer to this is the intensity and immediacy of a live performance. While the cinema is a magical place, it is hard to compete with a cast and crew on stage several metres away. The story of the Shawshank Redemption is just as smart as it was when it was first written over 30 years ago. This touring production has been playing since January with Dublin as the final destination on their tour, so the actors are comfortable in their roles. This production puts a new spin on the much-loved classic and there is much to enjoy in this adaptation.

JOE ABSOLOM – Andy Dufresne
BEN ONWUKWE – Ellis ‘Red’ Redding
MARK HEENEHAN – Warden Stammas
KENNETH JAY – Brooksie
OWEN OLDROYD – Entwistle
JAY MARSH – Bogs Diamond
COULTER DITTMAN – Tommy Williams

Original Novel By STEPHEN KING
Associate Director – TIM WELTON
Lighting Design by CHRIS DAVEY
Sound Design by ANDY GRAHAM

Categories: Header, Theatre, Theatre Review

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