The Shawshank Redemption – Review – Leeds Grand


The Shawshank Redemption – Review

Leeds Grand, September 2015

by Pauline Cooper

“Hope in a place like Shawshank is a fickle and dangerous thing,” states a cruel and corrupt warden. Especially, he could add, for the unfortunate inmates of a notorious Texan prison in the 1940s.

shawshank redemption grand theatre leedsIn this Bill Kenwright production, the tense and forbidding atmosphere of a system where violence is normal comes to the stage. The first act opens in a stark grey prison.

Former City banker Andy Dufresne (Ian Kelsey) is wrongly convicted for the murder of his wife and her lover. He receives a sentence of life imprisonment in the maximum security penitentiary. Dufresne at first remains silent as the evil and vicious behaviour erupts around him. But, as the years roll by, he is befriended by the prison ‘fixer’ Red Redding (Patrick Robinson).

At this stage fans of the well-loved 1994 movie of the same name could expect the play to proceed as a two-hander but, under the excellent direction of David Esbjornson, the ensemble delivers a powerful and emotive performance.

Shawshank Redemption leeds grand

Ian Barritt, as the elderly librarian Brooksie, is superb. He is an essentially sensitive man caught up in a terrifying nightmare. It seems he has no escape. Among the other inmates Rooster (Leigh Jones) chills the audience with his maniacal laugh and casual violence and in another era he would surely have been sent to a mental hospital. Ian Kelsey, most recently recognisable as mild-mannered Howard Bellamy in BBC’s Doctors, exudes a quiet determination, opposite Red whose brash, bright and breezy exterior belies an intelligent and compassionate strength of character.

“Precision of delivery”

Dufresne arranges favours for the inmates in return for helping the warders play the money markets. Judging from the attendance – and reaction – of the opening night crowd, this well-respected story still holds plenty of appeal to theatre-goers of all ages.

shawshank redemption theatre playThe Shawshank Redemption movie, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, developed a cult following. It remains one of the most cherished films ever made. Among its ardent fans were two stand-up comedians, Dave Johns and Owen O’Neill. They adapted The Shawshank Redemption – originally a short story by Stephen King – for the stage. O’Neill re-wrote it for the 2013 Edinburgh Festival and is now touring, playing the spiteful Warden Stammas.

Excellent set design and lighting (Gary McCann and Chris Davey) underscore the precision of delivery of this outstanding troupe. Patrick Robinson has a long and impressive background in theatre, television, film and radio. His CV includes Waiting for Godot at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Co-writer Dave Johns says in programme notes: “Working with Owen on the adaptation has been a labour of love for us both.”

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