Adapting a well-loved book or film for the stage always presents the writers and directors with a dilemma; how to tackle scenes that are already imprinted in the audiences’ mind through the previous incarnations. As I approached this stage adaption by Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns of Stephen King’s short story Rita Heyworth and the Shawshank Redemption I was intrigued.
How would they stage Andy Dufresne’s escape from Shawshank Prison, chipping through his cell wall and crawling down a sewer pipe? And ‘Red’ Redding’s post-parole hunt for the field, wall and oak tree he’s been directed to? The answer proved deceptively simple. Leave Ben Onwukwe alone on stage to tell us the story. Simple, and very effective. Onwukwe’s charming and sympathetic performance was at the heart of what was good in this production. Gary McCann’s prison yard set was bleak and imposing, and well supported by Chris Davey’s lighting design.
Sadly, despite committed individual performances from Jack Ellis as the corrupt prison Warden and especially Andrew Boyer as the institutionalised librarian Brooksie, the production was uneven. The adaptation failed to adequately show the passing of time, and how (with the notable exception of Brooksie) this lengthy incarceration would have a physical and mental impact on the inmates.
Central to this problem was Paul Nicholls’ Dufresne. Believable at the start of the evening, there was an emotional disconnect with his character, and he did not appear to age a day, let alone 27 years. Onstage, opposite Onwukwe and Ellis, we were seeing completely different, and not complimentary, acting styles. In a studio theatre Nicholls could well be a very effective performer, but in the 1200 capacity Grand Theatre much of his dialogue, and therefore character, was simply lost. When Dufresne escaped it was pleasing, but sadly not for the right reason. At least it meant we got to enjoy Onwukwe’s epilogue uninterrupted.
Love Midlands Theatre
Sharing the latest theatre news and reviews around the Midlands.