REVIEW: The Shawshank Redemption, Theatre Royal, Newcastle, Until October 24

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.  Patrick Robinson as Red and Ian Kelsey as Andy Dufresne.
The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. Patrick Robinson as Red and Ian Kelsey as Andy Dufresne.

It’s risky business taking something as famous as The Shawshank Redemption from screen to stage, but this was definitely a risk worth taking.

It’s been 21 years since the film version of Stephen King’s short story Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption was released.

The famous flick is highly regarded as one of the greatest ever made and while it can be difficult not to directly compare it to this production, the show is in a league of its own.

It follows successful banker Andy Dufresne (Ian Kelsey) after he is wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover and imprisoned for two consecutive life sentences at the infamous Shawshank facility.

It’s a story as harrowing as it is uplifting. Andy goes through hell but never gives up hope and Kelsey captures his relentless spirit magnificently.

But the pressure was perhaps on a lot more for Patrick Robinson in the role of Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, made famous by Morgan Freeman.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.

Admittedly when Robinson first spoke, it was a little unnerving that Freeman’s voice didn’t come out of him. The voiceover was such a huge part of the 1994 film so, in a way, I couldn’t help but expect to hear it, but it didn’t matter as Robinson made the role entirely his own.

The pair worked great together. Their bond was heartwarming and soul-stirring – you really believed that they were incarcerated together for 20 long years.

The rest of the cast members, whether guard, warden or inmate, were fantastic. They had such strong identities, from Leigh Jones’ psychotic laugh in his interpretation of Rooster, and Ian Barritt’s poor, old, institutionalised Brooksie, to Joe Reisig’s brutally strict Hadley.

The staging was quite plain but worked fantastically. The show is very character-driven but the actors completely suck you in.

If you’re a fan of the film, don’t expect to see an exact copy on the stage, because that’s obviously not possible, but this is a real piece of theatre magic.

You could have heard a pin drop during Andy’s tense chess match with Bogs Diamond (Kevin Mathurin) and their more harrowing sexual encounter – when Bogs asserts his dominance over Andy – is very cleverly done. As the stage is plunged into darkness and things are left to your imagination, it’s so much worse than actually seeing what’s going on.

The show is dark and very heavy. It deals with rape, murder, corruption, suicide and all things horrific, but at the same time it’s sweet and funny and about how important it is to never give up hope.

With lots of controversial topics to cover and strong language, the show has a recommended PG rating, and it’s not really appropriate for young ones.

The staging relies on the imagination quite a bit, but the lighting and music sets each scene perfectly.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.

If you’re a fan of the film, don’t expect to see an exact copy on the stage, because that’s obviously not possible, but this is a real piece of theatre magic.

While it’s distressing, it’s inspirational and if you’re as much of a softy as I am, you might even shed a little tear.

The Shawshank Redemption runs until Saturday, October 24. Click here to book tickets.

Twitter: @vickinewmanjp

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. Patrick Robinson as Red.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. Patrick Robinson as Red.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. Ian Kelsey as Andy Dufresne.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal. Ian Kelsey as Andy Dufresne.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.

The Shawkshank Redemption is on stage at Newcastle's Theatre Royal.