JLife’s Elaine Bermitz reports back from the opening night of The Lowry Theatre’s production of The Shawshank Redemption.
The Lowry Theatre, now in its 22nd year, has bought so much variety of entertainment and so many new plays to the North West that it has never really seen a downturn in its popularity. Returning to The Lyric Theatre, which seats 1,730 people, to see a play whose plot is well-known to millions, I expected there to be a good audience and wasn’t disappointed. The production of The Shawshank Redemption lived up to expectations, in that it was faithful to Stephen King’s novella and to the acclaimed film based upon it.
Its key strength was the casting and, in particular that of Ben Onwuke as Red, narrator and key character, and Joe Absolom, as Andy Dufresne, the proclaimed victim of a miscarriage of justice which saw him serving two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover.
Both Onwuke and Absolom are well-known popular actors, whose faces are recognisable from TV soaps and dramas, but both have stage credits to their name, and did justice to their roles in different ways. Ben Onwuke’s height and drawl as he narrated the plot seemed authentic and his stage presence as a repentant murderer was exceptional, while the more defiant stance taken by the aloof and fiercely independent Andy was well portrayed by Absolom. Both could have been expected to do well, given their leading roles. Mark Heenehan brought all his experience as a stage actor and voiceover artist to the role of the sadistic Warden Stamman, whose power over the Shawshank prisoners was malevolent in the extreme.
Supports, set, and sound effects were all impressive, though I wasn’t sure if some of the crackling in the announcements was a fault in the effects or the deliberate sign of a crumbling prison structure.
The Shawshank Redemption has been criticised as a gloss-over of the harsh reality of the US justice and prison system, with an unlikely happy ending. It has also been praised as one man’s refusal to allow the circumstances of his life to crush his spirit.
Either way, this fine production provides a good opportunity to decide for yourselves.
Go and see it.
Book tickets now at: www.thelowry.com/whats-on/the-shawshank-redemption/