reviewer: megan hyland
Adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Jones from Stephen King’s critically acclaimed novel and the iconic 1994 film, the Shawshank Redemption tells the familiar story of Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary. Whether you know the story or not, this production is accessible for all audience members, with its hard-hitting and emotional performances drawing you in from the beginning.
The play follows Andy Dufresne, (played by Paul Nicholls) an intelligent and charismatic banker imprisoned for the double murder of his wife and her lover. The story is beautifully narrated throughout by his fellow prisoner Red – played by Ben Onwukwe who brings brilliant animation and magnetism to the well-loved character. Throughout the twenty years in which the play is set, we see Andy interact and develop relationships with his fellow prisoners – played by an outstanding supporting cast – all the while forming a rather resourceful plan.
The all-male cast offer a range of powerful and gripping performances, from the quiet and bumbling but lovable librarian ‘Brooksie’, played by Andrew Boyer to the terrifying and sinister prison tormenters Rooster and Bogs, played by Jeff Alexander and Sean Croke, whose performances were exceptional and uncomfortably convincing. The entire cast had incredible physicality and great chemistry, particularly between Nicholls and Onwukwe, who bring both humour and charm to their characters. Nicholls gave a charming and likable performance as Andy, effortlessly transitioning from Andy’s distanced and quiet personality to bold, raw performances with Jack Ellis’ performance as Waden Stammas being the perfect menacing contrast. Each scene was thick with tension, but the hard topics especially were handled effortlessly and tension was quickly diffused with wonderfully dry humour.
Gary McCann’s set and costume design although simplistic added greater authenticity to the story, and allowed it not to distract or take away from the incredible acting performances. Although the costumes and set design were reminiscent of the 1994 film of the same name, they were magnificent in their own right. Paired with Dan Samson’s eloquent sound design, they create a genuine and intimidating prison atmosphere.
Transferring this story to the stage can’t have been an easy task, but director David Esbjornson has done a faultless and beautiful job. The cast bring a new life to the familiar roles, without leaving behind the story we’re familiar with. And although not a light-hearted watch, the play tells a riveting and heartfelt story of friendship, strength and hope that resonates with the audience.