The Shawshank Redemption Play, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

22 November 2016

Okay, so I have a confession.

I am an avid reader, that I'm fairly sure you already knew - even if I haven't done any book-tube content in a hundred years.

I am also a fairly avid watcher of films (when your boyfriend is a film-maker you don't get much choice to be fair, but I am a fan of a night on the sofa with a film anyway - and we have made the Cineworld card investment every year for several years now.)

But somehow, despite Stand By Me being one of my favourite films, it's still the only Stephen King film adaptation I have ever seen, and I've never read a single thing written by him. So when the opportunity came up for press tickets to go see The Shawshank Redemption (which incidentally comes from a book of short stories which also includes The Body - the short story Stand By Me was based on) at The Theatre Royal, Glasgow, I jumped at the chance.

Shawshank is one of Scott's all time favourite films and with the press night coinciding with his birthday, I figured it was a no brainer - but I figured it would be pretty interesting for me to hold off on doing any research and present my views in contrast with his - from my point of view as someone with a theatre degree, who sees and reviews a lot of theatre but who has never seen the base material for the play; and from his point of view as it being one of his favourite films, with his film background but being someone who maybe isn't quite as at home in the theatre as I am.

For anyone who knows as little as I did entering the theatre the story takes place inside The Shawshank Penitentiary - a maximum security prison and focuses mainly on the journey of Andy Dufresne - a man convicted of a double murder who insists he is innocent.

The first character we meet is of course the narrator of the story - Red, played in the film by the ever glorious Morgan Freeman. Those aren't shoes I'd like to step in to but Ben Onwukwe (arguably best known for his work as Recall McKenzie in London's Burning - but whom my fellow Glaswegian theatre goers may remember best as the ghost of Hamlet's father from DominicHill's production of Hamlet at The Citizens in 2014) gave a stellar performance.
He was measured and sensible - an approachable but respected character within the prison hierarchy. A man with wisdom on his side, who has spent more of his life in prison than out of it - and a man who, for all his wisdom, sense and measure, is somewhat defeated by this.
From Scott's point of view this wasn't someone trying to be Morgan Freeman (trust me, that's something I've witnessed more than one seasoned actor do on stage) - this was a man who took the character and made it his own - which is the highest praise I think someone can get when dealing with a character portrayed by such an iconic actor. His version, according to Scott, was rougher and louder - less reserved and more upfront.

To combat Red's defeat - enter Andy, portrayed by Paul Nicholls. Despite being innocent of the conviction that finds him in Shawshank, Andy manages not to let the oppressive atmosphere of the Shawshank kill his spirit - he doesn't lose sight of his end goals, of his innocence, of his intelligence or, most crucially, his hope and belief in the above. Paul Nicholls brings a wide range of emotions to the character - we feel everything he goes through and captures every small detail of this complicated, multi-layered character.

Other actors who must be mentioned are Jack Ellis who played the Warden, Nicholas Banks who played Tommy, who entered in the second act and Andrew Boyer who played Brooksie - who had my heart in my mouth at one point. All performances were sensitive, measured and executed with attention to detail and everyone came across as fully multi-faceted. In slightly more background characters I also need to bring attention to Sean Croke who performed the role of Rooster and Adam Henderson Scott who portrayed Rico.

Where Scott and I slightly disagreed was in what we thought of the prison guards - neither of us found them intimidating but I personally didn't think we had to. To me the lack of intimidation I felt from the guards underlined Andy's intelligence and Red's wisdom - they were both so above the guards that they didn't need to be intimidated. Of course, physically these men had batons and could forcefully intimidate the prisoners, but again the fact they had to rely on that force underlined that mentally Andy and Red were above them. All they had was force, and were no match for them in wits.

The set was static for the majority of the play - but it didn't need to change thanks to the fantastic lighting set up by lighting designer Chris Davey. The lighting took us through what the different times of day endear were, as well as transporting us from a library to a dining room to a rooftop. I always personally prefer simpler sets and this one ticked all my boxes.

The only thing I would say I wasn't as keen on with the play was the ending - nothing to do with the actors or the set, just the way it was written. But then, that's just me. I like an ambiguous ending, and to be fair, most people find ambiguous endings frustrating - so overall the ending is probably more liked than disliked.

All in all we both thoroughly enjoyed the play - I would 100% recommend it and would go again in a heartbeat - you can book tickets for the Glasgow run here. It runs till the 26th November with matinees on a Wednesday and Saturday in the Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Unfortunately it is at the end of it's tour run, so you've only got two further options to catch it - at Sheffield Lyceum Theatre November 28th - December 3rd then finally at Palace Theatre, Southend 5th-10th December.

If Glasgow, Sheffield or Southend are within travelling distance for you and you're a fan of the film, or even if not and you just fancy a good story that explores human emotions from the depths of despair to the highs of hope, then book yourself a ticket to Shawshank. No previous Stephen King experience required.

Join the conversation!

  1. I NEED to see this! I adore Stephen King & The Shawshank Redemption is one of my favourites. I had no idea it was on stage in Glasgow at the moment! xx

    Charlotte / Colours & Carousels


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