The Shawshank Redemption: Absolutely Incredible

It is one of the most iconic films of all time, one which is regularly listed top of the greatest film ever made polls, and one, which incredibly, I have never actually seen. I am talking about The Shawshank Redemption, which has now been adapted into a play by Owen O Neill and Dave Johns, and which opened at The Alexandra, Birmingham, last night. As a newcomer to the story (I know…obviously been living under a rock, don’t say it), I was mesmorised by the absorbing, at times utterly heartbreaking story of Andy Dufresne, Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, and the other inmates of Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary.

Andy Dufresne is sent to Shawshank Penitentiary after he is found guilty of killing his wife and her lover, a crime he denies. For a year he barely talks to anybody, and is routinely brutalised and gang raped by ‘the sisters’, led by Bogs Diamond. But Andy slowly forms a friendship with Ellis “Red” Redding and, after overhearing the captain of the guards, Hadley, complaining about being taxed on an inheritance,  he shows his financial skills andoffers to help him to avoid paying the tax through legal loopholes. Warden Stammas Norton, realising Andy’s skills,  allows Andy to manage financial matters for the prison, this includes ‘cooking the books’ and covering for the warden’s money laundering. Things improve in the prison after this, with a library being created for the inmates and better conditions, but after a new young inmate, Tommy Williams, enters Shawshank, bringing with him a shock revelation, Andy’s carefully constructed world is once again turned upside down and a new chain of events is set in motion leading to a powerful denouement that will long stay in the memory.

This is a powerful, haunting story that does not shy away from violence, abuse and horror, and it is delivered by a standout cast that are just perfect in their roles. As Andy and Red, Joe Absolom and Ben Onwukwe are just incredible, conveying every single emotion with utter sincerity and a pathos that draws the audience towards their characters and plights. They are supported ably by fellow inmates Kenneth Jay as the tragic, institutionalised Brooksie, who is just wonderful, and Coulter Dittman as optimistic, eager to learn Tommy Williams. Leigh Jones is menacing and brutal as prison ‘king’ Bogs Diamond, whilst Mark Heenehan is the epitome of grasping evil as Warden Stammas. The whole cast deliver on every level, and it is a tribute to their skill that this hard hitting story seems to pass so quickly.

The Shawshank Redemption is a new masterpiece of modern theatre. It really is not to be missed.

The Shawshank Redemption at The Alexandra Theatre until 12th November.

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