5-10 September 2016
Reviewed by Kathryn Carr
Last night I headed to my favourite North West theatre, The Lowry in Salford Quays, to see Bill Kenwright’s production of The Shawshank Redemption. When I heard this gritty narrative was coming to the stage I was intrigued. As a fan of the 1994 film starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins, I was keen to see the theatrical interpretation of Stephen King’s short novel. I was also just a little excited to discover the two leads were Paul Nicholls (my fifteen year old self’s floppy haired celebrity crush) and Ben Onwukwe (who played Recall, my favourite London Burning’s character). I was a little worried as to how these two seemingly cheeky chappies would take on an intense play set in grim location but they certainly proved their worth, with Ben as ‘Red’ particularly doing the role more than justice. No-one can argue Morgan Freeman isn’t a hard act to follow.
The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne (Nicholls) who is sent to prison for the murder of his wife and her lover despite protesting his innocence. It follows his unlikely friendship with ‘prison fixer’ Red whilst incarcerated in a notorious prison where inmates and wardens alike are brutal bullies.
Despite not doing wonders in the cinema, The Shawshank Redemption was nominated for seven Academy Awards and is now frequently voted Britain’s favourite movie. With a fan base on that scale, the stage show’s actors and production team must have known what they were up against in terms of the high expectations of any audience. They didn’t disappoint and delivered an excellent version of a cherished film.
The show retains the emotions of the big screen without merely replicating the drama. There was plenty of well-received humour (more than I recalled from the film/expected) yet as a whole, the show was powerful, violent yet strangely uplifting. In amongst its dark moments were poignant messages of hope and camaraderie.
The staging was simple yet effective with smooth transitions between prison settings, led by music fitting to the era that summed up and linked acts. The sound effects depicting prison banter and clatter may have played subtly in the background but massively added to the setting of scenes. There were times too when the cast managed to create an extraordinary silence and during one particular tense game of chess, there wasn’t a bottom in the theatre perched anywhere but on the edge of a seat.
The second half of the show is undoubtedly stronger than the first but this is down to necessary scene setting and the fact that the plot with its twists and turns gains pace as the show progresses. Despite a slower start, I didn’t drift and I was eager to stay tuned and get the real ins and outs of this wrongful imprisonment. I believed in the characters and for the whole cast and crew to adapt such a well-known film into a successful stage show, is a huge achievement. I hadn’t watched the film for quite some years (it’s telling that my copy is on VHS) and I was glad. I was able to judge the show on its own merits. Now, I’ll go back to the film (and the book), influenced by a very enjoyable evening out.
I’ve visited The Lowry several times recently with my young daughter and rated our experiences highly. On this visit, I was pleased that the staff were just as friendly and helpful without us having a little one in tow attracting smiles and attention. It’s a great venue for couples and groups of friends as well as families; definitely worth adding your details to their mailing list. The theatre in Salford Quays, located within easy reach of the motorway network should in theory be easy to get to and from, just check travel in advance as we’ve been caught out by slip road closures a couple of times and have had to follow lengthy diversions (or at least they’ve felt long at gone ten at night!) The restaurant and bar, though perhaps more expensive than the chains that surround the theatre are attractive, comfortable and offer plenty of mouthwatering choice. If you are eating or drinking before or after your show, it may be worth paying for your car parking ticket in advance – just stick it in the machine once you’ve arrived and you’ll skip the queues / save time when it comes to leave. (A couple more ticket machines wouldn’t go amiss). Paying in advance for parking costs £6 so to get your money’s worth you need to be on site for over four hours.
Tickets cost from £21 to £32 (includes booking fee).
The Shawshank Redemption is at The Lowry in Manchester until 10 September 2016. For more information or to book tickets click here or call the box office on 0843 208 6000.
The Lowry, Pier 8, Salford Quays, Manchester, M50 3AZ | 0843 208 6000