REVIEW: The Shawshank Redemption, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until October 22.

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption

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It’s pretty well everyone’s favourite film – and that’s the measure of the risk the producers are taking in transferring it to the stage.

But we love The Shawshank Redemption above all because it’s such a cracking story, and it’s here that the stage production really scores.

Adaptors Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns and director David Esbjornson are wise enough to respect the tale. Consequently, they deliver it beautifully, on the back of a raft of fine performances.

Based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, it’s the tale of the ever-resourceful, resilient Andy Dufresne as he finds his own way to negotiate wrongful imprisonment for a double murder he didn’t commit.

Paul Nicholls is outstanding in the role, bringing out the quiet strength which has to underpin the character.

Equally impressive is Ben Onwukwe in arguably the more challenging role, that of Red, the shoes so famously filled by Morgan Freeman in the film. Onwukwe’s performance skilfully acknowledges that you absolutely can’t tackle the role without freely doffing your cap to Freeman, but at the same time, he makes the role his own in the subtlest of ways.

Opposing them both is the bigoted, corrupt Warden Stammas – a part to which Jack Ellis brings fine villainy and self-regard.

Put it all together, and you get a rich tale richly and effectively retold – though we were glad not to be sitting too far back. At times you had to concentrate just too hard to hear, a problem the Mayflower is doubtless tackling at this very moment.

Phil Hewitt

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