In the first of two high profile film titles taking to the stage in the West End this month, Stephen King’s inspirational and much-loved The Shawshank Redemption is brought to life at the Wyndham’s theatre.
King’s famous drama tells the moving and sometimes brutal story of wrongly accused prisoner Andy Dufresne and his friendship with fellow inmate Red. Set over 20 years, Andy refuses to let the manipulative warden – who is, somewhat ironically, the prison’s face of Christianity – the violent guards or his lack of freedom break his spirit, as he sets out to improve the little life he and the other inmates have remaining.
At the heart of The Shawshank Redemption is the story of finding hope in the very darkest of places, and set against the backdrop of violence, sexual abuse and corruption, is it sometimes hard to understand Andy’s relentless optimism. But it is Red, as the middle man between the cocky and hardened prisoners and Andy, who seems to be from another world entirely, who is the most intriguing character; guilty of his crime or not, it is Red that everyone cannot help but root for.
To portray a place that Red describes as smelling of “blood, piss and fear”, designer Ferdia Murphy has created a suitably dark and miserable setting, with two storeys of caged cells set on three aspects of the echoey space. Each prisoner is indistinguishable in their regulation denim shirt and jeans. Bursts of Johnny Cash and Andy’s seemingly innocuous poster of Rita Hayworth provide the only break in the grey monotony of their surroundings.
Like the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s soon-to-open Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Shawshank Redemption has been adapted from the original novella. Fans of the movie, however, won’t be disappointed by the translation which sees the characters interpreted much the same way Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman brought them to life on screen. Kevin Anderson as Andy is quietly inspirational, stoic and determined, his desire to both better his fate and fight against it never wavering, while Reg E Cathey hits the right balance of clued-up and endearingly intrigued by his friend’s determination. Both prove that there are aspects of human life that just cannot be caged.