Gary McCann creates an open, but barren Shawshank Penitentiary, allowing male relationships and human fragility to take centre stage in this adaptation of this Stephen King short story. Unfortunately, under director David Esbjornson’s guidance, it fails to do so.
The entirety of the first act of Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns’ adaptation lacks any real plot focus on what one can only assume is trying in vain to encourage the audience to form an emotional bond with the characters. Unfortunately, the only really interesting prisoner is Nicholas Banks’ Tommy, and he doesn’t feature until the second act.
This, on one part, leaves us with a first act which simply achieves nothing, and a second half that has to try to squeeze the contents of the play down into something stageable in just over an hour. This adaptation wastes time, something that the prisoners could ill afford to do.
Stunted dialogue is not helped by an overemphasis on the dialect making it very difficult to simply understand and hear the actors for vast chunks of the play. This is unfortunate as any chance we had of engaging with anyone is lost more often than not.
Cliché takes the lead in terms of direction: Ben Onwukwe’s Red is a parody of Morgan Freeman’s film portrayal, and feels awkward when narrating directly to the audience. Early on, he establishes leads which are never fully explored as the play develops.
For avid fans of the film, this may provide some kind of enjoyment. But as pure theatre, it is devoid of any emotion, connection, or sense of real empathy. There simply is no redemption for this poor adaptation.