The 1994 Oscar winning movie The Shawshank Redemption is regularly right at the top of many favourite film of all time lists.
Based on a novella by Stephen King, it tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a banker incarcerated in the infamous Shawshank penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover.
Andy initially remains aloof inside the brutal prison, but slowly forms an unlikely friendship with fixer Ellis “Red” Redding. He continually professes his innocence of the double murder, but over the years inside The Shank he uses his wit and intelligence to make life as bearable as possible.
This intriguing tale has now been transported to the stage. I can’t compare to the movie or to the original book, but it stands alone as a thrilling, life-affirming piece of live entertainment.
Paul Nicholls plays the wily banker, Jack Ellis the devious Warden Stammas and Ben Onwukwe, as Red, is a convincing double for Oscar nominated Morgan Freeman.
With stealthy set changes and a little imagination, we’re on the inside of the penitentiary with the cast, moving seamlessly from the canteen to Andy’s cell – adorned by a Rita Hayworth poster – into the exercise yard and back into the new library, a reward for Andy’s money-laundering efforts for Warden Stammas.
The cast of just eleven men punches well above its collective weight, thanks to a clever soundtrack and theatrical trickery .
We come to despise prison bullies and rapists Bogs and Rooster, pity institutionalised librarian Brooksie and laugh with the other long-term inmates.
In just two hours, we live with them all through almost 20 years of lies, violence, fear, friendship and – ultimately – redemption.
I might yet see the much lauded film one day, but it’s hard to imagine it could be a better experience than seeing this stage adaptation, on a wet September night in Windsor.