WHEN the movie version of Stephen King’s classic short story was first released, it flopped; for critics and the public alike. Then rediscovered to surprising success, it flew off the shelves everywhere from Blockbuster to HMV and - now regarded a classic - frequently appears in the top ten films of all time.
Some of this adaptation is too slavish and episodic
If you remember the film fondly like me, you’ll recall standout scenes like Tim Robbins standing in a river in the rain. The cinematography is superb, and so evocative that you feel as if you’re standing right there with him.
Translate this richly-woven and dialogue-driven piece to the stage, and you are sadly left with a reductive piece that reminds you how great the film is but provides you with nothing new in terms of staging or narrative. We merely go through the motions, waiting for the best bits to appear.
Considering that the story spans twenty years and focuses on an intelligent protagonist who is accused of murder, you might be expecting a gripping play. Paul Nicholls certainly brings a sense of gravitas and mystery to the lead role, portraying well Andy Dufresne’s inner goodness, but also his unpredictable edge. Ben Onwukwe’s Red, meanwhile, keeps the narrative steady and fills in any gaps for the audience.
Some of this adaptation is too slavish and episodic; at other times, vital points of the story are glossed over. The character of Brooksie - the librarian who does not feel equipped to deal with life on the outside - is reduced to a whimpering wreck yet, because he’s barely onstage, the emotional connection is merely muted.
David Esbjornson’s direction gives the play a stilted feel, whereby small moments are stretched and big moments are rushed. So, during a chess game, we watch each move in fine detail. On a big screen, within a movie, you can zoom in and - bang - you have an emotional response. Here, on the vast Lowry stage, you feel disconnected and wishing you were sat watching the movie with a huge bag of popcorn.
Gary McCann’s set misses a trick, as we never get to see how bad the conditions are for Andy and the other prisoners. The sense of claustrophobia is absent and, even though Red keeps coming back to narrate, without the aid of a montage, music, or a flashback, you simply have a bare stage to look at. This would be fine if there was some drama intact, but the play crawls along. By the time the big ending arrives, you are left with a feeling of ‘is that it?’
If you love the Frank Darabont film, I suggest making a night of it, drawing the curtains and reliving those classic scenes. Because seeing it on stage is quite a flat experience: at times, you feel like you yourself are behind bars, with about as much to look at.
The Shawshank Redemption is at the Lowry until 10 September.