The Shawshank Redemption, Bath Theatre Royal

STEPHEN King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption has made an interesting journey from its origins among the other short stories in Different Seasons via a cult movie to the stage.

Like so many other dramas it is set in a prison, this one “the Shank” in Maine, where lifers expected to be incarcerated for decades. Most are murderers and the newest is Andy Dufresne, sentenced for shooting his wife and her lover – a crime he denies. Andy is very different from the rest of the prisoners, keeping himself to himself, interested in books and soon catching the attention of the Governor as a financial wizard.

The current play, on a national tour, is an adaptation of the original by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns and set almost entirely in the prison over the course of 20 years. The violence, the horrors, the loneliness, the power struggles and the despair are viscerally depicted by David Esbjornson’s 12-strong cast, and if the first half seems too long, it only exemplifies the tedium of confinement and perpetual tension.

The cast is led by Ben Onwukwe as Red Redding, the prison fixer and Yellow Pages man, who forms an unlikely friendship with loner Andy (Joe Absolom). When young Tommy Williams (Coulter Dittman making his professional stage debut) arrives at the Shank, with information that could prove Dufresne’s innocence, it is not in the Governor’s interest that the facts are heard outside the walls. The outcome is more than Andy can bear. The ending is a righteous triumph, but only after much disaster.

The Tim Robbins-Morgan Freeman movie is a constant high in the list of best films of all time. Could the play capture the same power and spirit? Yes, it can, and it has in this touring production. The only performances in the south west are at Bath, until Saturday 1st April, so grab the chance to see it now.


Photographs by Jack Merriman

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