REVIEW: The Shawshank Redemption, Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham
By Mark Owen | 14th February 2023
Cheltenham audiences were treated to yet another top-notch production as the nation's favourite movie came to the stage of the Everyman last night.
The audience was invited to step inside Shawshank State Prison for the acclaimed stage version of The Shawshank Redemption.
The plot, which follows the story of Andy Dusfrene in Shawshank State Penitentiary, will be familiar for many, with the original story based on a 1982 Stephen King novella, which was later developed for the screen by Frank Darabont in 1994, featuring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, and was nominated for seven academy awards.
Despite protests of his innocence, Andy (Joe Absolom) is handed a double life sentence for the brutal murders of his wife and her lover. Incarcerated in the notorious Shawshank facility, he quickly learns that no one can survive alone.
Andy strikes up an unlikely friendship with the prison fixer Red (Ben Onwukwe), and things start to take a slight turn for the better. However, when Warden Stammas (Mark Heenehan) decides to bully Andy into subservience and exploit his talents for accountancy, a desperate plan is quietly hatched.
This thrilling stage production examines desperation, injustice, friendship and hope behind the claustrophobic bars of a maximum-security facility.
The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favourite films and I must have seen it at least ten times. If, like me, you love the film and like the book, they really have captured the darkness of the story with the violence, abuse and oppressiveness. But it's really well done. And surprisingly, quite funny in parts too.
The way it's adapted to the stage doesn't spoil the memory of the film and it still works. It's a really fantastic production with stunning performances and characterisations and you really wanted to root for the characters.
Ben Onwukwe was superb as Red and his portrayal of the character Morgan Freeman played so memorably was excellent. Joe Absolum was also very good but was slightly understated, almost overpowered by Ben Onwukwe's portrayal.
The play takes no prisoners, if you'll pardon the pun, with your emotions and with all the violence and sexual abuse. There is bad language but it's not used just for the sake of it. It's a journey of people who become friends, not natural friends, but the end is very powerful.
One slight observation: If you didn't know the film you would have known Andy escaped but not how he escaped. The escape was explained but not shown.
But the play was perfectly cast and there was a really strong supporting cast and you can't not mention Mark Heenehan who played the prison warden extremely powerfully.
At the end of the play the cast received a standing ovation - and well deserved.
As always, the scene changes were brilliant. Having now been to the Everyman to review shows a number of times in the past few months, I'm beginning to appreciate what a jewel in the crown this theatre is for Gloucestershire. You do really feel like you're going on a night out.
The Shawshank Redemption will play at The Everyman until Saturday (February18). Tickets are priced from £15, and are available to purchase at https://www.everymantheatre.org.uk/shows/the-shawshank-redemption/ or by calling the box office on 01242 572573.
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