Review: The Shawshank Redemption at Derby Theatre.

five star

Directed by award-winning Broadway director David Esbjornson, the acclaimed The Shawshank Redemption, currently showing at Derby Theatre is a powerful stage production adapted from Stephen King’s novella of the same name. Stephen King is one of the most popular authors of contemporary literature and has written 54 published novels which have sold more than 350 million copies around the world, many of which have been adapted into feature films. The ‘Shawshank‘ novella was made into the 1994 Oscar Award winning film The Shawshank Redemption and has regularly been voted as the nation’s favourite film. As plays developed from film go this is an absolute winner with a real tangible feel of tension throughout. It runs at Derby Theatre from Monday 24 until Saturday 29 October.

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This emotionally compelling production of The Shawshank Redemption is a freshly written adaptation by actor/writer and stand up comedians  Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns. O’Neill has an impressive catalogue of acting and writing awards to his name and so has Johns. Dave Johns has recently starred in the Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake. They say that the script writing for The Shawshank Redemption was a labour of love.

The masterly oppressive set (with menacing patrolling guards) and costume design is by Gary McCann and the dramatically moody and relevant lighting is by Chris Davey. Dan Samson’s sound design adds much to the atmosphere of the play with the unnerving sound of doors slamming and keys turning.

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Paul Nicholls, Jack Ellis and Ben Onwukwe star in this 2016 UK tour. The Shawshank Redemption follows Andy Dufresne, (Paul Nicholls) a banker handed a double life sentence for the brutal murder of his wife and her lover. Dufresne finds himself incarcerated in the notorious Shawshank penitentiary and continues to protest his innocence. During the story Andy Dufresene strikes up an unusual friendship with the prison fixer Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Ben Onwukwe) and things appear to be improving. Even so, when Warden Stammas (Jack Ellis) decides to exploit Dufresne’s talents for accountancy by intimidation and bullying tactics, a do-or-die plan to right the miscarriage of justice is quietly considered.

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The action in the play takes place over the twenty year long term imprisonment. It is a slow burner that rapidly picks up pace in the second half. The talented cast of twelve give the piece real edge and a harrowing sense of danger. The work of fight director Alison De Burgh is superbly realised. One is often on the edge of one’s seat so tense is the gritty narrative and action. The acting from all of this exceptionally strong cast is top class and the accents hold well throughout.

The play adaptation examines desperation, injustice, friendship and hope behind the claustrophobic bars of a maximum security facility. There is good use of period popular music to carry the story along and whilst a lot of the storyline is of a brutal and humanly sad nature there is a vein of dark humour that give rise to hope borne out of endurance and potential freedom for the men. For anyone who has enjoyed the moving and poignant film they will not be disappointed in this terrifically redemptive stage production. You may find it hard to remove the lump in your throat at the end.

Reviewer: Phil Lowe

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