The Shawshank Redemption

The 'nation's favourite movie', The Shawshank Redemption is at Milton Keynes Theatre this week in a powerful and uplifting production based on Steven King's original novella.

The production is stripped back with simple staging which allows the performances plenty of space to shine despite the claustrophobic setting of a maximum security facility. 

The cast is led by Eastenders and Doc Martin star Joe Absolom as the wrongly convicted Andy Dufresne alongside London's Burning's Ben Onwukwe as fellow inmate Ellis “Red” Redding.  Both bring memorable performances with Joe really making the role his own with an emotional performance.  Ben's performance is closer to Morgan Freeman's movie portrayal of 'Red' with some powerful monologues and a soulful, heartfelt characterisation.  The supporting cast are excellent and the brutally tough reality of prison life doesn't pull any punches.

There are outstanding performances from Kenneth Jay as the elderly book-loving Brooksie, Mark Heenehan as Warden Stammas and Coulter Dittman as Tommy.

This is a life-affirming story about desperation, injustice, friendship and hope which follows Andy Dufresne as he begins a double life sentence for the murder of his wife and her lover at Shawshank despite protesting his innocence.  He quickly learns that he needs to make friends to survive in the brutal and corrupt prison and strikes up an unlikely partnership with the prison fixer Red.  But when Warden Stammas decides to bully Andy into subservience and exploit his talents for accountancy, a desperate plan is quietly hatched…

Although the 1994 feature film, starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, was nominated for seven Academy Awards it was initially a box office flop and became appreciated on video release. It went on to become a huge source of inspiration to film makers, with The National Film Registry citing the film as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".

This is the debut tour for the new stage production of The Shawshank Redemption which has big shoes to fill but manages to pay respect to the movie and book while at the same time creating something new but equally powerful and uplifting.

Ultimately, this is a story about the triumph of the human spirit which is almost more powerful when told on stage in this simple form.  Fans of the movie should be prepared for a few differences but they won't be disappointed.


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