My friend’s mother texted her before The Shawshank Redemption premiered at the Theatre Royal, “What, he’s never seen the movie?!”

This is true. I have never seen the film or read the book The Shawshank Plot, so I have no idea what it’s about as I await this week’s opening of the production at a prestigious theatre in Newcastle.

The world of Shawshank Redemption is brought to life as the lights dim, the curtain falls, and three naked men enter the stage to summon the prisoners.

This is the story of wrongfully convicted Andy Dufresne’s time at Shawshank State Penitentiary, for those who have been living under a rock. Joe Absolom, who was nominated for a BAFTA, plays the moody Dufresne, and Ben Onwukwe, who was the star of the movie Burning, plays Dufresne’s friend Ellis “Red” Redding in prison.

Early in production, David Esbjornson’s adaptation of the film does an excellent job. The audience’s deafening silence during courtroom confrontations stood in stark contrast to the month-long run of dizzying pantomime stunts that had occupied the same space.

Onwukwe, a likeable narrator similar to Red, had his hand eaten off by theatregoers before anyone discovered his heinous crime. Meanwhile, Rooster Leigh Jones’ body is inextricably linked with Jay Marsh’s bohemian Bogs Diamond.

The conflict between the prisoners dominates the first act of the play, and while the audience must use a little imagination to fully appreciate the physical confrontation, the sisters’ threat of gang rape is unsettling.

The second act of The Shawshank Redemption is filled with ups and downs. The way Kenneth Jay plays Brooksey and the way Kurt Dittman plays Tommy Williams are both very refreshing.

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