The Everyman Theatre was fit to burst on Monday 2 November 2015, with theatre-goers packing every level of the auditorium on the opening night of Shawshank Redemption, all eager to catch a rare stage adaptation of one of the most popular films of all time.
Originally a novella by Stephen King and celebrating its 21st anniversary as the multi Oscar-nominated film, Shawshank Redemption is often voted the number one movie of all time, and as such, it is a tough act to follow.
Directed by Broadway stalwart, David Esbjornson, and presented by Bill Kenwright Productions, this adaptation gave it a good shot, sticking loyally to the film’s narrative and picking out pivotal scenes to focus on, as well as using familiar dialogue and original quotes.
The setting was fantastic, with the fourth wall allowing audiences to see into the prison, almost creating a claustrophobic sense that we too were inside the Shank. While use of simple props such as a library trolley, canteen tables, or the warden’s desk transported audiences to other locations within the prison.
With two hours looking at a sad, grey interior, the final feel-good scene saw audiences gasp out loud as the prison walls moved aside to a spectacular effervescent beach scene, bursting with colour, and the famous line: ‘I hope the Pacific Ocean is a blue as it has been in my dreams’ certainly ringing true.
The only problem with tackling such a monumentally successful movie, is that no matter how great the production is, you can’t help but compare it to the film…
While some scenes which were poignant in the film were lost on stage, the adaptation did allow for a more visceral experience – with the musty smell of smoke, harsh bright lights, clatter of chairs falling over during a fight and screams on a pitch-black stage building up a sense of realism – allowing audiences to get an emotional taste of danger felt within prison walls.
Similarly, there were no holds barred when it came to addressing prison themes, with cursing, violence, murder and gang-rape proving for some shocking, but necessary viewing.
Ian Kelsey played the role of Andy Dufresne well, with the quiet heroism that the character is so popular for. However, it was arguably Patrick Robinson who had the toughest job, having the daunting task of tackling Morgan Freeman’s role as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding.
Surprisingly perhaps, he filled those mighty shoes well and it wasn’t long before thoughts of Morgan Freeman had vanished, with Robinson perfectly mimicking the Southern drawl, his narration keeping audiences gripped.
While the narrative was an easy one to follow, the actors ensured that we knew who ‘the good guys’ and ‘the bad guys’ were, which became almost pantomime-like at parts, although it made the redemption all the more sweet.
The prison ‘sisters’, Rooster and Bogs, played by Leigh Jones and Kevin Mathurin respectively, made a perfectly dislikeable couple, capturing their depravity, with a sinister motive and plenty of maniacal cackling making them a fearful on-stage presence.
Practically, some scenes that were so pivotal in the film were a bit rushed, such as Tony Williams’s arrival to and descent from the prison; the great escape itself; and Warden Brooksie and Officer Hadley’s punishment. But if I had no previous knowledge of the film, I wouldn’t have missed them.
And while the production could have easily relied on the audience’s prior knowledge of the story, there were no shortcuts, ultimately providing the audience with that satisfying ending – and rapturous applause when the curtains fell.
While it was a thoroughly enjoyable production and another stellar evening at the Everyman Theatre, the Hollywood film is a certainly a tough act to follow. As Red said, ‘some birds aren’t meant to be caged’…
Shawshank Redemption will be at Everyman Theatre until Saturday 7 November 2015. For more information see Everyman Theatre call (01242) 572573, email email@example.com or visit everymantheatre.org.uk directly.
By Alice Lloyd
Wednesday 04 November 2015
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