So this is my first blog post! I’m from Bristol and I love going to see local theatre, so surprise, surprise- that’s what I’m writing about. My first blog post is a short review of a production of The Shawshank Redemption I saw at the Theatre Royal Bath a couple of weekends ago. So here goes…
As soon as I received the Theatre Royal Bath brochure for this season of theatre, I knew that the first must-watch production on my list was David Esbjornson’s touring production of The Shawshank Redemption.
At first, I was very excited to see one of my favourite films on stage. With its gritty realness, sharp humour and intelligence, Stephen King’s novel was portrayed exceedingly well on film. I was intrigued to discover what they would do stylistically to the story on stage; would it be as brutal, honest and shocking?
Unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Now, don’t get me wrong, as the curtains rose I was impressed with the set; it was dimly lit and grey with a level above where the wardens could eerily walk back and forth over-looking the scene. They cleverly dragged small backgrounds on wheels to change the setting to an office, Andy’s room with the famous poster of Rita Hayworth and a large and (somewhat precarious) bookcase floated down from above to create the library scenes. It was evident that each set change was thought through with precision.
However, some of the acting amongst the smaller roles proved to be very weak; they tended to have a wooden and awkward presence. Although they warmed up as the play progressed, it was Owen O’Neill in particular who played the main prison warden who failed to loosen up. His arms swung around nervously as he spoke; he failed to have that commandeering aspect needed for his authoritative role.
Moreover, I assume the fights amongst the prisoners were intended to look stylistically fake- with large, swinging movements and exaggerated reactions (very West Side Story). However, I thought this was a poor decision; for a story as gritty and shocking as Shawshank, I expected the fight choreography to look more real; thus creating a bigger impact for the audience.
Nonetheless, I was particularly blown away by Ian Kelsey who played Andy Dufresne and Patrick Robinson who played Ellis ‘Red’ Redding. Robinson was strong throughout, carrying the story with his bold narration; his presence felt very natural on stage. Kelsey took a little longer to warm up, but when he did, he was very engaging and witty. The scenes with them together were by far my favourite; they had a very strong connection. Other than that, Robinson’s monologue at the end stood out in all its heart-wrenching, triumphant glory.
Overall, the production failed to reach my expectations, but then again, it’s a lot of pressure for a cast to recreate the story so many of us know and love. I personally would have made some directorial changes, especially in regards to the fight choreography. Other than that, I was very impressed with the two main actors. I just wish that this production had more of an impact on me than it did.