A Little Escapism in King's Grim Classic; THEATRE

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), May 24, 2009 | Go to article overview

A Little Escapism in King's Grim Classic; THEATRE


Byline: Michael Moffatt

The Shawshank Redemption Gaiety Theatre until June 20 ****

In Stephen King's short novel, Shawshank prison is a place where hypocrisy and brute force rule, and inmates who aren't tough only stay sane or alive by using their wits. If you happen to be innocent, hard luck. Some take it as an image of the American dream played out as a vicious rat race. Hope is what inspires you. Unrealistic hope can destroy you.

The 1994 movie was a grim affair, in which the innocent, cerebral prisoner, Andy Dufresne, combined with the pragmatic Red to outwit the thugs on both sides of the law.

This stage version, getting its world premiere, is an altogether lighter affair with much more comic input. The sadistic brutality is still there but it's more sporadic than pervasive, and the script has the stamp of the adaptors, two former stand-up comedians, Dave Johns and Owen O'Neill.

They have invented scenes and elaborated on others for comic effect but generally manage to keep the essence of the original. Comic and dramatic possibilities are developed in the expansion of the library and in the introduction of song, and briefly, of a band.

As a result, the two leads, Kevin Anderson as Andy and Reg Cathey as Red, don't dominate so much and smaller roles are developed, so there's a greater sense of the prisoners as a group. Andy confides not just to Red but often to the prisoners as a group. It's only in the closing stages he takes Red into his confidence, sharing his vision of a wealthy future in Mexico.

A drawback to the lighter touch is that the guards and inmates sometimes appear more ridiculous than brutal, which weakens the claustrophobic horror of the story. …

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