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The Shawshank Redemption - Milton Keynes Theatre

Published by: Louise Winter on 17th Nov 2015 | View all blogs by Louise Winter

Reviewed 16th November 2015

Shawshank poster

Based on Stephen King’s 1984 novella RIta Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption the 1994 film was initially regarded as a box office flop despite receiving seven Oscar nominations and wide critical acclaim. Now the Shawshank Redemption is a firm fixture at the top of IMdB’s all-time great films. Writers Dave Johns and Owen O’Neill first adapted it for the stage in 2009. It was rewritten for the 2013 Edinburgh Festival and this Bill Kenwright production is its third transformation on tour until the end of the month and featuring two very well-known actors, Ian Kelsey as Andy Dufresne and Patrick Robinson as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding. 

Robinson is well cast as Red, definitely the major and most enigmatic part but you have to wait until the very end to get any real sense of his underlying character in his excellently delivered soliloquy. Kelsey does well with what he’s been given by the writers and director David Esbjornson but it doesn't feel to be enough and he has limited opportunity to show the subtleties or nuances of Dufresne’s personality. The development of the unlikely friendship between these characters, so critical to the story, does not appear to be central to this adaptation. 

There are short scenes of threat, strong violence, and despair but they are momentary and the cast and audience soon move on thus the overall atmosphere is unfortunately rather flat throughout. This is not helped by the use of a wide array of mostly upbeat music for the numerous scene changes which interrupt the cohesiveness of the timeline. Indeed the time span of the film is twenty years but this passing of time is not in evidence in the play apart from a couple of conversational references.  There doesn't seem to be any real desire for insight into the true desperation of those wrongly accused or the depth of the tension that we know exists inside the harshest prisons. This lessens the overall impact of the story.

I found the script unnecessarily wordy and often clichéd; the cast fighting for space to speak within the dialogue. This,and the fact that there appeared to be some issues over the sound quality last night, meant passages of dialogue were lost, particularly in the first half. However, the cast are strong throughout and do an excellent job with their roles and dialogue. The malevolence of Warden Stammas (Owen O’Neill), is palpable and the power and influence he holds over the inmates and guards is effectively depicted by O’Neill. Guard Hadley (Joe Reisig), is foreboding on stage as a huge powerful presence. Prisoners Bogs Diamond (Kevin Mathurin) and Rooster (Leigh Jones) are primarily deeply unpleasant characters – violent rapists who intimidate and rule through fear but here they veer towards caricature on occasion. Brooksie who runs the library, played by Ian Barritt, is a key player in the film but this role is reduced here. The audience doesn’t really get to know him and therefore his suicide once he is forced back into the society he has been apart from for most of his life lacks emotional impact. Excellent as young Tommy Williams is George Evans who portrays well the bluff and bluster of a young man trying to stand up for himself and his murder-disguised-as-suicide is distressing.

Overall the acting is first class, the direction though feels a little rushed.


Plays Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday 21st November

Bookings 0844 871 7652



1 Comment

  • Cameron Lowe
    by Cameron Lowe 2 years ago
    Thanks, Louise. What a disappointment that this wasn't more enjoyable. Such a shame.
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