A stage adaptation of one of the most critically acclaimed films of all times, based on a book written by one of the World’s most successful author’s was always going to have a lot to live up to.
It was a shame therefore this production didn’t feel like an attempt to even try and compete.
Set in a high security prison over 20 years, much of the original story and many of the original characters remain. Fans of the film will remember warm characters with depth and variety, honest storytelling, gritty drama and well-placed light hearted moments.
This production, its UK debut, unfortunately offered little of those things. There was no real chemistry between the actors and no sense of them knowing each other for two decades. There was such little heart in the characters that the climactic reuniting of Ian Kelsey (Andy) and Patrick Robinson (Red) felt particularly underwhelming and lifeless. There was neither an ounce of joy or relief between them and summed up the slow, defeatist mood of this play.
Scene changes were designed to show the passing of time, a tough thing to achieve on stage, but this device slowed the pace of the production down even more. The slow-motion exits during these moments were not consistent which typified the lack of care and attention to detail throughout this woeful play.
This adaptation would have been massively improved with an underlying musical score. This would have added some weight and atmosphere on stage; the skeleton was there, but needed completely fleshing out.
Opportunities to create real tension and drama on stage were repeatedly missed. When loveable librarian Brooks attempts to take his own life on-stage in a response to be given parole, the audience do not empathise with him or his cell mates as no relationships have been established in the build up to this moment. News of his eventual (and off-stage) demise is almost greeted with a shrug.
Another wasted opportunity is the killing of Tommy. On film it is one of the most shocking and dark moments but on stage was drawn out and lost. The audience were waiting for the loud gunshots to ring out and use the height of the set, but instead he was led to his cell and suffered another “off-stage death”.
Overall The Shawshank Redemption just didn’t translate from screen to stage. Too many scenes were short and fragmented, scene changes drawn out and slow and characters lifeless. This was a forgettable production which washed over the audience and left no lasting impression. Which for an original text written by Stephen King and a film packing so much punch, was a shame to witness something so limp.
Review by Andy Edmeads