The Shawshank Redemption**** (Assembly Rooms Edinburgh, 18 August 2013)

Posted: August 19, 2013 in Theatre

photo-119In the programme, the writers (Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns) attempt to answer the obvious question – why? Transferring any subject that is already an iconic film to the stage is inevitably risky, but the particular film in this case is rated the greatest of all time on IMDB and figures in the top ten of almost every poll of the film-going public. The writers state that they were not allowed to use anything from the film and sourced their play directly from the original Stephen King novella (yet note that they use the film’s title rather than the full title of the novella). However, the film casts a giant shadow and it would be futile to try to avoid comparisons with it. As the “fixer” Red, Omid Djalili could hardly be less like Morgan Freeman; on the other hand, as the wrongly-imprisoned Andy, the American actor Kyle Secor looks very much like Tim Robbins and plays the role similarly. Both actors are excellent.  It is difficult to argue against the view that this story of de-humanising prison brutality, friendship, determination and unbeatable optimism stands re-telling many times; the biggest assets of this production are the assured, imaginative direction (by Lucy Pitman-Wallace) and the striking set designs (by Gary McCann). The stage version is less successful than the film in conveying all the meticulous detail that is so crucial to appreciating the “redemption”, but, to its credit, it does not over-sweeten the ending. Judged on its own merits, this is gripping theatre that brings a huge lump to the throat. But is it or could it ever have been better than the film? No.

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