Review: The Shawshank Redemption @ New Theatre
There are few works of cinema from the '90's that can be justly billed on "The greatest films ever made" lists. The Shawshank Redemption can rightfully be placed here, even if it's a film that I wouldn't necessarily say is one of my favourites (Gone With the Wind and Citizen Kane are some I'd certainly agree on).
My main concern with these screen-to-stage adaptions is the little to no new elements that feature. The dynamics of film and theatre are very different, but we are still getting the same story and themes. This fan service for the film rarely pays off, unless it's turned into a musical, which can bring in a new audience and creates another sphere in which the work can proudly exist.
"A swell job"
This ensemble of all-male actors do a swell job of bringing this Steven King story to life. The set depicts a prison well, though it could look even more grimy. The lighting helps compliment the isolation of a cell block, with its bright, square framing on the actors. The soundtrack featured none of Thomas Newman's ravishing score for the film, but we did get a typical medley of pop music of the progressing timescale (over 20 years) in which the story deals.
Fans of the film may be upset to know that one of the most iconic scenes does not feature. When prisoner Andy Dufresne locks himself in the warden's office, he addresses his fellow inmates by playing Mozart over the loudspeaker. This could have really made the show, in a true moment of reflection and beauty. I didn't expect a live crow to be on-stage lurking around the library scenes, but it would have been nice. The scene in which Andy advises a guard about tax is well used by the front of the stage as he is threatened with being pushed off the roof. *Major spoiler alert* The hole that Andy dug to finally escape his wrongly convicted prison sentence could barely fit a child through...
As Andy, the familiar-faced Ian Kelsey plays it very cool. Little emotion comes from this character, but he appears to keep it internally. The methodical and calculating plans he has for the staff of the prison prove his cunning and saint-like patience. Patrick Robinson as "Red", husky-voiced and not with the intent of being like Morgan Freeman on most levels. Perhaps he is a little too young for the part, but he does pull it off, with funny moments, a harsh prison mentality and business-like panache.
"The entire ensemble did make the story come alive"
The rest of the cast are also noteworthy: Leigh Jones playing Rooster, the muscle clad rapist bully with the piecing laugh; Ian Barrit as Brooksie, the librarian of the prison who considerers suicide after being paroled; George Evans as the young and "dumb" Tommy Williams, who is hellbent on getting smart yet still has morales and pays the price for these commendable traits; Declan Perring with a somewhat off-key Latio accent as Rico but still with passion and wit, questioning the Bible and lusting over Lady Chatterley's Lover, even stealing pages from it; Owen O'Neill (who also co-wrote the play) playing the corrupt Warden Stammas, a slight but imposing man who could break you with manipulation, threats and a small chance of parol. The entire ensemble did make the story come alive, even if we've seen it all before.
The themes of isolation and reformation are much milked to make you feel sympathy for these criminals, who appear to have learnt from their past mistakes. The recovery of reformed prisoners is interesting in their coping mechanisms (or lack of) in handling the outside world that was deprived of them for decades, is some of the story's strongest elements. *Spoilers* The more apparent themes of justice and freedom come into their own in the third act, as Andy makes his daring escape from the prison and crime he did not commit. King is one of a few writers who can make you root for a prisoner, even if he is an innocent man in the first place.
My advice is to see the film, if you haven't already.
Rating: 3 stars
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Photos Credits: New Theatre website