The Shawshank Redemption – Review – Bradford Alhambra
By Steve Crabtree, March 2023
The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favourite films, and one of the most iconic flicks of all time. I know I’m not alone in that, and it’s very common to hear the title mentioned in conversation, followed up with the words “Oh! Great film!” shortly after.
But, adapting such a big-hitter from screen to stage can often be a little risky.
Musical versions of films can often get away with it quite easily by throwing in some memorable numbers, but when you’ve got a hard hitting drama such as this one, you have to get everything right.
Thankfully, great casting, writing and acting meant that this play more than does the film (and the book) justice.
If you’re like me, the first thing you think about when you mention The Shawshank Redemption is Morgan Freeman. And it was down to Ben Onwukwe to make this role of Red his own on this tour – and he doesn’t disappoint. Onwukwe brings an air of authority to his portrayal, while still managing to capture Freeman’s subtle charisma from the movie. He’s the show-stealer of The Shawshank Redemption, and the glue that holds the play together.
Joe Absolom is similarly convincing as Andy Dufresne. He executes the innocent and intelligent character through clever body language and pondering silences, and encapsulates the financial whizz perfectly. You really warm to him and Red, and their connection on stage. In fact, you completely lose the film-comparison factor watching these two play out the scenes very early on.
Of course, these leads are helped out nicely by a strong cast that includes Leigh Jones (Rooster), Jay Marsh (Bogs Diamond) and Kenneth Jay (Brooksie) among others.
The staging is quite noteworthy too. Throughout, we’re inside Shawshank State Penitentiary. Cold, dark walls and subdued light captures the oppression and the tension that we know The Shawshank Redemption brings. But the play flows with an energy, and thanks to some nice writing and direction, it doesn’t become overbearing.
“The art of friendship”
As you’d expect, strong language is rife. It’s definitely not one for the kids! We get bullying, torture and gang-rape. And certain graphic scenes are intense and difficult watch. Despite the use of reduced light saving your watching eyes in these instances, your mind begins to work and you sometimes wish you were somewhere else.
But there’s the art of friendship entwined throughout the storyline too. And it’s this that makes The Shawshank Redemption a heart-warming production.
I really enjoyed this stage version. I warmed to the lead characters, and the baddies right from the start. If I’m being picky, I felt the humorous moments from Hadley the guard a bit spoofy and out of place at times, but not enough to alter my views on the overall play. In fact, so drawn in was I that the final scene was very simply but perfectly executed, and made a huge smile appear on my face. Call it a touch of emotion, if you like.
If you’re a fan of The Shawshank Redemption, get yourself along to see the stage version. It’s not as long as the film (!), but it gives as much impact. You’ll more than appreciate a good, solid take on what you’re already a fan of.
The Shawshank Redemption runs at the Alhambra, Bradford until Saturday, March 25th