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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Shawshank Redemption
Wyndham's Theatre      Autumn 2009

This stage version by Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns is based on the original Stephen King story rather than the popular 1994 film. But, except for a few minor points, like eliminating some of the opening-out from the prison setting in the film, the two are virtually identical.

It's been a while since I saw the film, but if there have been any changes, or any significant episodes omitted or added, I couldn't spot them.

Kevin Anderson and Reg E. Cathey give performances that are carbon copies of Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, the adapters and producers even duplicating the film's change of the key second character from an Irishman to an African American.

For the few who don't know, story, film and play are set in a prison in which Andy, a middle-class banker falsely convicted of murder, forms a friendship with Red, an older convict who has resigned himself to just getting along as best he can.

After a shaky start, Andy seems to be following his pal's model, but turns out to have a secret escape plan that takes him decades to put into effect.

Many people who found the film oddly inspiring will have the same reaction here. After all, Andy may be innocent and still spend twenty or thirty years being regularly gang-raped and beaten, but he does eventually escape.

And the evil warden and his sadistic guards may regularly brutalise and possibly murder inmates, but Red is paroled after thirty or forty years, and the two buddies (oddly, in this production, not aged a minute since the first scene) will reunite in a Mexican city whose motto is 'No Memories,' so everything is all right.

You are getting the impression that I see little point to this stage version, and perhaps I'm being unfair. It tells King's story clearly and efficiently, and if over-familiarity does not keep you from getting caught up in it, there is pleasure to be found in Andy's manipulation of the system and ultimate escape, outrage at the undoubtedly understated picture of prison brutality, and pathos in the portraits of prisoners less able to survive the experience than our two heroes.

Those who don't know the film can feel these things as fresh experiences, and those who do may find pleasure in taking the same emotional journey again.

Other than the fact that they bring nothing fresh to the roles, Kevin Anderson and Reg E. Cathey serve the play and their characters well. Mitchell Mullen is appropriately slimy as the warden and Geoffrey Hutchings touching as a veteran prisoner completely beaten down by the system.

Director Peter Sheridan keeps things moving smoothly and perhaps quite intentionally insures that no fan of the film will be disturbed by any noticeable differences. Ferdia Murphy's two-tier cell block set has the disconcerting effect of making you expect Elvis to appear any moment to sing Jailhouse Rock.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of The Shawshank Redemption - Wyndham's Theatre 2009

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