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The Shawshank Redemption
20th September 2022 - 24th September 2022
THE NATION’S FAVOURITE MOVIE BECOMES AN ACCLAIMED STAGE EVENT
THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION
Based on the short novel by
Adapted by OWEN O’NEILL and DAVE JOHNS
Directed by DAVID ESBORNSON
Design GARY McCANN
Lighting Design CHRIS DAVEY
JOE ABSOLOM AS Andy Dufresne and BEN ONWUKWE as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding
Despite protests of his innocence, Andy Dufresne is handed a double life sentence for the brutal murder of his wife and her lover. Incarcerated at the notorious Shawshank facility, he quickly learns that no one can survive alone. Andy strikes up an unlikely friendship with the prison fixer Red, and things take a slight turn for the better. However, when Warden Stammas decides to bully Andy into subservience and exploit his talents for accountancy, a desperate plan is quietly hatched…
Based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, this thrilling stage production examines desperation, injustice, friendship and hope behind the claustrophobic bars of a maximum security facility. The 1994 feature film starred Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and was nominated for seven Academy Awards.
Joe Absolom’s impressive TV career has barely seen him off our screens in twenty-five years: from Matthew Rose in EastEnders to Al Large in Doc Martin, Christopher Halliwell in A Confession and Andy Warren in The Bay. Ben Onwukwe boasts a 30-year stage career including leading roles with the RSC and the Royal Court, as well as 11 years on TV as Recall McKenzie in London’s Burning and, more recently, the role of Jackson Donckers in Professor T.
‘Electrifying- it truly is a must-see show’- The Observer
‘Gritty, captivating’ – The Richmond Guardian
★★★★ The Herald
★★★★ The Scotsman
★★★★ The Chronicle
Running Time: 2 hours 10 minutes (including interval)
All of us at Malvern Theatres are saddened to hear of the death of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. Our thoughts are with the Royal Family. The performance on Monday 19th September will not be going ahead. The box office will be in contact to offer an exchange or a full refund, however if you would like to contact us, please call on 01684 892277 (Mon-Sat 9.30am-8pm).
Good atmosphere with believable characters. Well paced,amusing yet thought provoking. A very enjoyable night. Thank you
I wonder if Stephen King even guessed what would happen when he wrote a short novel set in a maximum security penitentiary jail in the Deep South of America, over a period of 20 years.
There is no doubt at all that the transition from a short story penned by the enormously successful Stephen King, was going to be a hard-hitting drama about friendship, dreams, nightmares.
The play is set in the jail - which is understandably grim, and the violence is gritty and alarming at times but the adaptation is quite simply brilliant.
The casting of Joe Absolom as the main character Andy Dufresne is perfectly cast and is involved in some dramatically violent confrontations....which one might expect in such a prison.
Andy befriends 'father figure' Ellis 'Red' Redding and the two share a dream of what could be on the outside......with Andy wrongly accused of murdering his wife and Red already served most of his sentence for murder.
If you can get a ticket for this production, then grab it and enjoy one of the best, grittiest, well produced dramas I've seen in a while.
Directed by David Esbjornson, quite frankly all of the backstage staff deserve special mention.
This play fully deserved the standing ovation given by the first night Malvern audience, and some were even bought to tears!
The View From The Stalls
The Shawshank Redemption is horror writer Steven King's 1982 story (a novella actually called Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption) of a group of men incarcerated for their typically murderous deeds and was, back in 1994, made into a film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. In this touring version of the play, those roles are played by Ben Onwukwe as Ellis "Red" Redding and Joe Absolom as Andy Dufresne. As this takes place in a male penitentiary, all the characters, inmates and staff, are male and the play covers 20 years of their lives.
The impressive set is designed to give some idea of the conditions in which the men are kept, noisy, cramped and a lack of privacy leading to the inevitable clashes of individuals (though always under the auspices of the guards who can spot most, but not all, of the things going on). Additional scenes are brought in to cover the canteen, library, the prison governor's office and the solitary confinement cell. And all the time, the wardens are watching from high up, armed and perfectly willing to use them. The play doesn't - and shouldn't - shy away from strong language and has scenes of physical abuse and implied male rape as well as the bribery and corruption we would expect in such an environment. That is exactly what Red does - he is a man who can get things for the other inmates. When Andy first arrives, and for a couple of years afterwards, he is quiet, reserved but is befriended by Red. He also has banking skills which are of use to the governor, which could be either his making or his downfall…
Among the threats and actual violence, particularly that meted out by the two "sisters" Rooster (Leigh Jones) and Bogs (Jay Marsh), are moments of humour from Rico (Jules Brown) with his quotes from Lady Chatterley's Lover, pages of which he stole from the library!
Onwukwe is effectively also the narrator of the story, often talking directly to the audience whilst Absolom is well cast as the introvert Andy who manages to have his feet in both camps and is seen as the saviour of new arrival Tommy who has some information about his conviction which could prove useful. The tension remains right to the end regarding the situation for both Red and Andy - plans had been made but could they be achieved?
This stage version quite possibly benefits from being on a static set. Things don’t change much even after 20 years and to be confined for such a length of time must be quite soul-destroying, especially if you consider that you have been wrongly convicted. The show is well worth a visit even if you have seen the film. Live performances will invariably trump what many millions of dollars have been spent on!
Euan Rose - Malvern Observer
Producer Bill Kenwright never fails to impress with his perception of what will put bums on seats outside of the tried and tested fare that is regurgitated year upon year.
This goes right back to when ex-Corrie actor Kenwright took a play by Willy Russell that was sinking into oblivion and turned it into a musical, then toured it for a couple of years and finally brought it back to the West End in triumph – the show was of course ‘Blood Brothers’ which, ironically, is now also one of the annual regurgitations.
Since Blood Brothers his catalogue has become exhaustive and mostly successful. It is somewhat brazenly formulative in that they are mostly famous films that he dares to transpose for the stage.
In fairness, comedians and writers Owen O’Neil and Dave Johns had the original idea to adapt Stephen King’s short novel ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ for the Edinburgh stage back in 2009 and now Kenwright has breathed fresh life into it with a brand new touring version.
Like so many other folk, I loved the gutsy ‘Shawshank’ film and was wowed by the masterful Morgan Freeman as ‘Red’. How does it stand up on stage? Well like everyone else at press night at Malvern, I hung onto every word, gasped a lot, had wet eyes of both sadness and joy and the two-hour journey flashed by.
Ben Onwukwe makes a fine job of Red or in full Ellis ‘Red’ Redding. In the Shawshank prison Red is both a lifer and a marketer (he is also our narrator) – if you want something and can pay for it, Red can get it. He’s been turned down for parole so many times that he’s made his mind up he’ll never be released. Onwukwe gives him warmth and depth, building all the time till we care about him passionately.
He fills Freeman’s big boots like they were made for him.
Joe Absolom is equally charismatic as Andy Dufresne, a lawyer serving two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her golf professional lover. A crime of which he is innocent but has no way of proving it.
The system in Shawshank is corrupt from the top down. From a warden misappropriating funds to brutal guards who are as equally culpable as the prisoners they watch over – the only difference is they get to wear the uniforms.
Warden Stammas has the whiff of evil about him – he is a bigot, a liar and a bully, Mark Heenehan gives him the full nine yards in displaying his abuse of power. Heenehan’s Stammas oozes corruption personified in his restrained camouflage of suit and tie – with a bible for a prop.
Coulter Dittman has us eating out of his hands as simple but lovable bad boy Tommy Williams.
David Esbjornson directs with a deft hand, skillfully moving the action over 20 years. We get to know everyone and watch them change. Lest we forget Esbjornson finds ways of reminding us from time to time that though the cons may be nice, they all (except Andy) did very bad things.
The clue is in the title ‘Redemption’. We are told the purpose of prison is not to punish but to change so that you can return to your place in normal society. However, just surviving day-to-day takes priority over redemption at Shawshank.
Gary Mccann has designed a highly convincing set, complete with huge high walls and gun terraces but with the stifling intimacy of individual cells and dark spaces where even darker things happen.
There are no weak links and the all-male company of 12 are unmiked and yet give the best vocal projection I’ve heard in a long while.
The show received a well earned standing ovation and I left thinking this is another Kenwright show that’s destined to run marathons.
Julie Bellerby - Fairy Powered Productions
I was not sure what to expect on reviewing The Shawshank Redemption, this iconic film, would, I assume, be difficult to transfer to the stage. The play is produced by Bill Kenwright, directed by David Esbjornson, designed by Gary McCann and lighting design by Chris Davey who have all surpassed expectation giving the audience a tale of hope, longing, friendship and determination, set in the reality of prison.
A young banker, Andy Dufresne, played by Joe Absolom, is convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover. He is adamant in defending his innocence, but the evidence is overwhelming and he is sentenced to two life sentences in Shawshank Prison. There, he strikes up a friendship with a fellow inmate, Red, known as the “man who knows how to get things” and can get almost anything a prisoner could want from the outside world. Andy approaches Red requesting a rock hammer in order to pick up his old hobby of rock collecting.
The passage of time was shown through songs of the decades, the stage set was simple but very effective, with a constant smoke machine bringing an atmospheric, dingy prison with little space or room for solitude.
A brilliant performance by Ben Onwukwe as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding who also acts as narrator throughout the play and Ben swaps between his scenes and his narration very well.
All actors gave believable performances, Joe Absolom as Andy Dufresne was good, who has a long portfolio of past TV performances to his name, brought the character to life as a misfit in the prison who learned to turn his experiences of Investments to a bargaining tool which gives him some relief from the abuse he receives from inmates.
Brooksie, played by Kenneth Jay, the old librarian, who’s demise was depicted differently from the film, was not as thought provoking as it should have been, dying in a Nursing Home rather than self-hanging in a very lonely world.
The villains, meanwhile, are gang-raping inmates, were so believable and well-acted, is a credit to them, I would not liked to have met them in a dark alley. Jay Marsh, Leigh Jones and Owen Oldroyd particularly give good performances.
The end was a little weak on the set, It would have been better with a little more atmospheric stage set up rather than a small, partial screen showing the ocean, Andy, with his back to the audience, I took a few seconds to register the significance of being re united with Red on a paradise Coast.
This performance received a standing ovation from the Malvern audience, deserved? Most definitely.
An amazing adaptation of the film/novel - first class acting from all cast members - set and music was fantastic 🤩
What an utterly fantastic adaptation for the theatre. We were so looking forward to this show (1430hrs 24/9/22) and it surpassed all our expectations. A full cast brilliant performance, thank you so much ….. well done to everyone involved, great authentic production
After a brief encounter with Joe Absolom, the day before in a Malvern street on Wednesday, I began to think about the Shawshank and then together with my better half, decided to buy two tickets for Thursday. I am no expert, but absolutely enthralled with the acting of ALL plus everything else, set, lighting, sound, etc. Brilliant THANK YOU.
Having really enjoyed the film version of Shawshank Redemption, I was intrigued to see how the story could be adapted and transferred to the stage.
At once I was impressed when I saw the play last night at the starkness of the prison set. As we were introduced to the characters the menacing air of brutality, violence and the abuse of power from those in authority came over in a graphic way.
This harshness was punctuated with humour and the strength of the human spirit is not completely crushed as the relationship and friendship which develops between ‘Red’ and Andy gives hope for the future, despite the shocking and negative experiences they have endured over the years.
All the actors gave a magnificent portrayal of the characters. Ben Onwukewe was absolutely superb as ‘Red’. Joe Absolom’s Andy was thoughtful, sensitive and excellent too.
I found the ending extremely moving and it brought me to tears.
The sudden contrast of the brilliance of the sun across the sea, and the realisation that Red and Andy had reached their destination, a culmination of their long held dreams, contrasting so effectively with the drab austere prison interior that it took my breath away.
One of the most memorable evenings at the theatre I have ever had.
Congratulations to everyone involved in this fine production!