Review – The Shawshank Redemption

August 11, 2013 | By | Reply More

✭✭✭✭✩   This jailhouse rocks

The Shawshank Redemption Steven McNicoll as Hadley, Kyle Secor as Andy. Photo © Douglas Robertson

The Shawshank Redemption Steven McNicoll as Hadley, Kyle Secor as Andy. Photo © Douglas Robertson

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
2-25 August 2013
Review by Martin Gray

There is a compelling piece of theatre in this adaptation of Steven King’s novella, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, at the Assembly Rooms on George Street.

Comedians Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns have created a fast-paced narrative which compresses the action and loses the odd character in its telling of the story of banker Andy Dufresne, sent to Shawshank State Prison in the late 40s for the murder of his wife and her lover.

But they keep the humanity which makes the story so easy to fall into as, despite denying the killings, circumstantial evidence sees Andy sent to the pen where he has to make a place for himself in a strictly ordered society.

The action takes place on an oppressive set in which tiny cells twist, turn and join together to form the various areas of the prison, its greyness thrusting the characters into the foreground.

Inmates and guards alike wear the same trousers, shirt and braces, suggesting that everyone at Shawshank is in some kind of prisoner. The guards have hats and ties too, but it’s easy for actors to swap roles according to the needs of the show.

This closed society is run by shyster Warden Norton and his brutal right hand men Hadley and Entwhistle. Then there’s Brooksie the librarian, Bogs and Rooster the sodomising ‘Sisters’; Rico the Jesus freak and Red, the guy who can get anything. It’s Red who provides mineral expert Andy with a tiny rock hammer and, to paper his cell, a poster of Hollywood goddess Rita Hayworth.

Over time, Andy gets a proper prison library, and protection from the Sisters, by cooking the books for the warden, Stammas. When a younger prisoner, Tommy, turns up with evidence that might get Andy a fresh trial.

The publicity material is all about Omid Djalili who plays Red. But this is an ensemble piece – without strong actors in each part, the play wouldn’t work. That several of the actors are comics – O’Neill plays Stammas and Johns is Entwhistle with Terry Alderton as Rooster and Joe Rooney as Rico – is irrelevant; there’s no special insight for them to bring, because life in Shawshank isn’t funny.

An engaging audience pleaser

The question is whether they can hold their own alongside the likes of US actor Kyle Secor (Homicide: Life on the Street, Veronica Mars, Law & Order and pretty much every other great drama of the last 30 years) as Andy, Ian Lavender (‘don’t tell ’em, Pike’ from Dad’s Army) as Brooksie, young find Jack Monaghan as Tommy, Easter Island statue made magnificent flesh Vincenzo Nicoli as Bogs and Edinburgh’s own Steven McNicoll as Hadley.

They certainly can – O’Neill’s Stammas is a cold-hearted horror, using the inmates to fatten his wallet; Alderton exudes quiet menace as Rooster; Rooney is a treat as Rico, the man who torched his family believing they’d be better off with the Lord; and while Johns has little to do, he does it just fine – including the stylised beating Entwhistle and Hadley give Bogs.

An earlier brutal moment, in which Bogs and Rooster assault Andy, is less successful, due to the music, which is otherwise restricted to scene changes, drowning out the dialogue. It’s the only moment in which the storytelling is fogged, thanks to director Lucy Pitman-Wallace having drilled her talented cast to get the best out of the script. Getting so much story into 90 minutes means there’s not a lot of room for nuance, but there’s no denying this efficient, vibrant transition to the stage is an engaging audience pleaser.

Having Djalili helps. He’s done a fair amount of acting, so knows how to hold a character together. Critically, he makes no attempt to mimic the gravitas of movie Red, Morgan Freeman – Djalili’s Red doesn’t speak as if he’s just come down from Mount Sinai, and the play is all the better for it. And Secor is superb, bringing an everyman quality to Andy and, crucially, managing to suggest there’s a lot going on beneath the quiet, dignified surface.

There’s not a weak link in this prison chain gang. Whether you’re a fan of the story, film or just great theatre, The Shawshank Redemption demands to be seen.

Running time 1 hr 30 mins
Run ends Sun 25 Aug.
Daily (not Mon 12) 4.50pm.
Venue 20, The Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, EH2 2LR
Tickets from: www.edfringe.com
Assembly Rooms website:www.arfringe.com

ENDS

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