Stepping back to Shawshank

This week saw Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre welcome the Stephen King classic novel and film to the stage.

Firstly a novella in 1982, then the famous film in 1994 starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and now a stage show at the Mayflower, the Shawshank Redemption is a tale most of us will be familiar with.

Filled with hope, frustration, anxiety, longing, and friendship, it’s easy to see the film and book have been such a success, thankfully the stage show follows suit.

We follow the struggles of wrongly incarcerated Andy Dufresne, perfectly portrayed by Paul Nicholls, as he climbs the prison hierarchy at Shawshank Penitentiary.

Eloquent and polite throughout, he’s a lead role we can all get behind.
The character made famous by Morgan Freeman, Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, is given a rougher and feistier new look by Ben Onwukwe.

The terrifying bullying ‘sisters’ bring a sinister presence to the stage, thoroughly unlikeable, preying on the weak and giving us some of the most hauntingly memorable scenes.

This all-male, all-denim cast are subjected to plenty of rough and tumble, as the physicality of scraps in the yard and even gang rape are played out before our eyes.
Surprisingly, not a detail has been missed from the simple set design, which echoes that of the film. Within this on-stage version of the overwhelming walls of Shawshank, there are scuffed paint jobs, vintage posters of Hollywood starlets, creaking metal bed frames, and a wooden book trolley pushed along on worryingly rickety casters.

The impressive acting and set design are complimented with an expertly curated playlist of The Beatles, Sam Cooke, Dean Martin, and Janis Joplin, and most of the action is saved for this livelier hour.

For the few that are unfamiliar with the tale, it’s sure to be two hours packed full of twists, turns, and surprises. For the rest, it’s just a welcome return to a much loved classic.

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