"The Shawshank Redemption"
When a film has been as successful as this one has been, it's always in the back of one's mind how well the story transcends to the stage. Well worry not, dear reader, because within a short space in time, I'd forgotten the film. But now the play has had me wanting to watch the film again.
Andy Dufresne (Paul Nicholls) is sentenced to two consecutive life sentences for the murders of his wife and her lover and is sentenced to a tough prison, Shawshank. However, only Andy knows he didn't commit the crimes. While there, he forms a friendship with Red (Ben Onwukwe), experiences brutality of prison life, adapts to the system, helps Warden Stammas (Jack Ellis), and discovers who really did murder his wife and her lover, all in 19 years.
There's a certain magic between all three lead actors which automatically creates that believability in the characters. Dufresne is intelligent and a banker and that;s the way he gets "in" with the dangerous Stammas with a little give and take on both sides when Dufresne gets the prison library updated and Stammas gets his books cooked.
Nicholls is well cast as the young, good looking professional who is bound to be the target of the prison deviants, called "The Sisters". While the brutal gang rape of Dufresne is part of the script, you'll be pleased to know that this isn't visual, but never the less, still created an air of unease.
Ellis is one of those actors who always seems to get the evil roles, but Jack plays that kind of character so well. I've had the pleasure of chatting to Mr Ellis and he is nothing like the characters he plays and has a dry sense of humour. Anyway, the role of Stammas is as corrupt as some of the inmates who will do anything within his power, and occasionally outside it, to get what he wants, not stopping at silencing the inmate who goes against what he says by wanting to help Dufresne.
Onwukwe's character Red, played by Morgan Freeman in the film, is one of those lovely, warm characters who will do anything he can to help anyone he can, bending the Shawshank laws to do so. His character's reaction to the parole news was a picture and made you want to punch the air because he is such a nice guy.
I also loved the role of Brooksie, the aged librarian who found it difficult to come to terms with life outside of prison and atoning for his crime. There's a part which will have you with a heavy heart near the end. Sensitively played with an equal amount of hardened exterior by Andrew Boyer who was making his UK debut in this production after spending many years on Broadway.
Another character you really root for is Tommy Williams (Nicholas Banks) who wants to pass his exams and, with Andy's help, succeeds. Stammas lies to Andy about this before getting rid of him and again lying to Andy by telling him that Tommy was on suicide watch due to him failing his exams again.
I love characters that make you react to them, in whatever way that may be and Jeff Alexander who plays one of "The Sisters", Bogs Diamond, is one actor who also makes you want to punch the character, he's that nasty.
The remaining ensemble of actors making up the convicts, who at times were really quite intimidating, and the prison staff were all excellent and completely looked the part.
You root for Andy and hate Stammas and in the end they both get what they deserve, so while the story is about loss, wrongful imprisonment, acclimatisation, bullying, scams etc, there's a wonderful hopeful end to the play. Plus watch out for the magic!
A wonderful set design(Gary McCann), very subtle but effective lighting design (Chris Davey) and crystal clarity sound design (Dan Samson), not to mentions a cracking soundtrack which included the music of The Beatles, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash and Roger Miller among many snippets, all adding to the era the play was set in.
Adapted for the stage by Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns and directed by David Esbjornson, this Bill Kenright produced play has all you'd want from a prison drama including quite a few laughs as well as some more poignant moments.
"The Shawshank Redemption" is at Derby Theatre until Saturday 29 October 2016 and really is worth seeing not just for a brilliant story by Stephen King but for some wonderful acting from all the cast.
There is swearing and some subtle nudity as well as adult themes, so maybe not for all the family with this one.