Image courtesy of Mark Yeoman
A variation on the usual King’s Theatre format, The Shawshank Redemption has been adapted from Stephen King’s original short story for the stage with this being its first major UK tour.
As in the highly acclaimed, cult classic film of the same name, Shawshank tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Ian Kelsey), convicted for two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover. Spanning twenty years inside Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary, Dufresne unfailingly claims innocence, over time cultivating a friendship with fellow inmate, Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Patrick Robinson).
Despite minor issues with sound – harsh feedback from the microphones was heard during an early scene of prison guard brutality – and some occasional faltering of the American accent, Shawshank was well received by the audience.
Kelsey and Robinson’s performance in the lead roles commanded the stage, their characters friendship and the audiences affection for them growing simultaneously. Aided by effective lighting that made use of blunt lines and squares to echo the rigidity of the prison regime, Kelsey and Robinson were able to generate genuine empathy from the audience. With scenes of a violent and sexually abusive nature, Shawshank has the potential to be almost too intense and too shocking. Instead, the cast manages to tread this line, leaving no member of the audience unmoved.
Fluid and commanding, Owen O’Neill’s performance as Warden Stammas deserves particular commendation. Stammas’ interaction with all the prisoners under his command was both brutal and arresting, resulting in an almost eye-watering climactic scene with Tommy Williams (George Evans). Evans, although cast in a relatively minor part, also deserves credit for a performance which exuded a simple kind of charm and bravery.
The jaunty swing music chosen to accompany the lapse between scenes created a powerful juxtaposition between the bountiful cultural development outside Shawshank and the stagnancy of time within. However, at times these music choices felt forced, crashed awkwardly over the poignancy of the dialogue in the preceding scene.
The 21st anniversary since the release of the film and over 30 years since the publication of King’s original short story (in Different Seasons, 1982), Shawshank has timeless appeal. Whilst prison conditions have undoubtedly improved, here and in the United States, the audience is led to reflect seriously on what our society is doing for rehabilitated convicts. The character of Brooks – released from prison early in the second half – vocalizes not only the trepidation that a convict may feel about starting fresh in society after a long sentence but also the unforgiving attitude that they might be greeted with by that society.
Shawshank is both thought provoking and profound, brutally reminding us that one of the primary reasons for re-offending is the struggle to adjust to ‘life outside’. We, as ‘society’, need to start accepting responsibility for this and radically change the way we view rehabilitation for offenders.