“Get busy living or get busy dying”.
Most people might know this quote from the 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. Now, the stage adaptation based on the original novella by Stephen King is touring the UK. This fabulous production is currently at Richmond Theatre until Saturday 4th February.
Despite his protests, banker 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 and exploit his talents for accountancy, a desperate plan is quietly hatched. A tale of injustice, friendship, redemption and above all, hope.
Joe Absolom (Al Large in Doc Martin, Matthew Rose in EastEnders) stars as Andy, at first underplayed to only then develop into the pillar of strength for the inmates. Ben Onwukwe (Recall McKenzie in London’s Burning and stage credits including the Royal Shakespeare Company) stars as Ellis ‘Red’ Redding. His wry humour, his shrugs, his long breaths- each makes the audience love him a little more. You want to cheer for Tommy (played by Coulter Dittman making his professional debut) as he strives to finish his education. Yet at the same time we are reminded of the unseen women and children who are the victims of these men’s crimes. Shout-out to Leigh Jones whose maniacal laugh was unnerving.
David Esbjornson’s direction opens with four new inmates demeaningly stark naked with just their folded prison clothes and a pair of boots covering them, creating tense anticipation. The passage of time is shown through the use of a couple of lines of song lyrics such as Johny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’. It’s a slow-burn plot unfolding over the course of two hours but this adaptation by Owen O’Neil and Dave Johns never fails to hold our attention- indeed I was surprised at how quickly the interval came.
Given the story takes place in the Shawshank Maximum Security Penitentiary over the course of 20 years, Gary McCann’s set is simply the prison: the cells, the Warden’s office, the library. The grey, darker grey and green-grey palette and the sound effects of the clinking of the cell doors creates a sense of enclosure. Chris Davey’s lighting design uses light and shade effectively. There are fade outs and black outs when the violence is at its height, contrasted with warm gentle light to depict moments of hope.
Overall, we loved this production and highly recommend grabbing tickets.
Performing at Richmond Theatre from Monday 30th January to Saturday 4th February 2023. Tickets from £13 with booking fee. It then tours to Cheltenham, Stoke-on-Trent, Coventry, Cambridge, Bradford, Bath, Dartford, Edinburgh and finishing in Glasgow in May.
For Richmond Theatre
Address: Richmond theatre, 1 Little Green, TW9 1QH.
Telephone: 0844 871 7615
Written by Caitlin Neal