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Shawshank Redemption

Published by: Kirstie Niland on 16th Nov 2016 | View all blogs by Kirstie Niland

Blackpool Winter Gardens Opera House

Until Saturday 19th November

“Sometimes kid, you gotta suck it up,” declares a seasoned inmate.

And at Shawshank that can mean literally anything, from everyday bullying to being gang raped or murdered for being honest. The irony and injustice of being incarcerated under corrupt rule is something most of the inmates have come to accept. Even the resourceful prison “fixer” Red refuses to have hope.

But not Andy Dufresne. Despite being innocent yet condemned to a double life sentence for the murder of his wife and lover, Andy brings hope and meaning into the inmates’ lives while playing the long game, anchored by the vision of Rita Hayworth - and a rock hammer.

The Academy award-winning movie, based on Stephen King's novella Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption has been adapted by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns for the theatre. I was keen to see how the legendary movie would work on stage.

I wasn’t disappointed.  Under the direction of David Esbjornson, the play unfolds like a pop-up book as the characters spring up into action, pent up energy bursting through their denim uniforms, ready to battle through the often terrifying pages of life inside a maximum security prison.

There is no curtain up, just lights up, and we are thrown violently behind bars to the sound of deafening bangs, clunks and clanks. Spotlights skim the towering prison walls and surround the prisoners, with new arrivals stripped of their clothes and former lives, the old hands preparing to greet or beat them. The Opera House, with its high ceilings and expansive stage, is perfect for the imposing Shawshank set.

As with all famous films, there’s always an urge to want the cast to look like the screen actors, which calls for a suspension of disbelief. Morgan Freeman’s Red and Tim Robbins as Dufresne are both daunting acts to follow, no matter how talented the cast. However, committed and confident performances from London’s Burning star Ben Onwukwe and Eastender’s heartthrob Paul Nicholls took my mind off the original, and focused it firmly on these two accomplished artists, and the characters' journey through a drama about friendship, loyalty, isolation, regret, and hope - as the men deal with the flickering reality of a light at the end of the tunnel.

This is not a show where secondary characters blend into the background. Every single cast member contributes something important, presenting us with an excellent portrayal of the extremes of prison life. In one moment you witness a man clutching the pages of Lady Chatterley’s Lover amidst howls of laughter; in the next there are howls of pain at the murder of a man who died because of his naivity and loyalty. And then there is panic and pathos in one of the most heart-breaking scenes; the attempted suicide of the oldest inmate Brooks, the institutionalised prison librarian who cannot face being released into the outside world. In these moments I forgot the original and became immersed in the live action in front of me.

Some aspects deviated from the film, which as a huge fan I would have preferred to remain true to the original, but they did not detract from how impressive the production was overall.

For the Opera House, Shawshank Redemption is a successful foray into some serious drama in between the hit musicals, and I would highly recommend it. Be it the film or stage version, this is a story that never gets old, and neither does Dufresne’s motto of “Get busy living or get busy dying.”

So go and see it while you can J

The Shawshank Redemption will run at Blackpool Opera House from Monday November 14 to Saturday November 19 and tickets are on sale now from


Photograph courtesy of Blackpool Winter Gardens



  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 1 year ago
    Thanks, Kirstie. Great review.
  • Kirstie Niland
    by Kirstie Niland 1 year ago
    Thank you, I really enjoyed it. The Opera House is such a good venue for this type of performance.
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