More than 30 years since its first publication, The Shawshank Redemption is inspiring a new generation of audiences in a freshly rewritten adaptation for its first ever major UK tour. 

Based on Stephen King’s 1982 novella and adapted for the big screen by Frank Darabont in 1994, The Shawshank Redemption tells the story of Andy Dufresne, a man found guilty of a double murder and sentenced to two life terms at Shawshank, a 150-year-old prison in Maine. 

Andy maintains his innocence and finds a way of surviving harsh prison life. Although initially isolated, he forms an unlikely bond with Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, a long-term Shawshank inmate who has served 20 years of a life sentence. This friendship — and the hope that it comes to symbolise for both men — emerges as a testament to the strength of the human spirit in the face of overwhelming odds. 

Ben Onwukwe’s performance as Red is a tour de force. He moves seamlessly in and out of the action, addressing the audience directly as a narrator figure before plunging back into the world of the play. His Red is at once generous and self-serving, jaunty and dispirited, and Onwukwe navigates the internal contradictions of his character with an emotional deftness that is a joy to watch. 

The duologues between Red and Andy (Joe Absolom) are some of the play’s standout moments. They cut through the violence of life at Shawshank with moments of genuine connection and the shrewdness and world-weariness of Onwukwe’s performance perfectly balances the indefatigable hope and goodness of Absolom’s interpretation of Andy.

Mark Heenehan is also outstanding as the hypocritical and quietly-menacing Warden Stammas, as is Kenneth Jay as Brooksie, a shuffling, aging convict who wins the audience over with his comedic stubbornness and goes on to deliver one of the play’s most heartbreaking moments. 

Every character is superbly delivered, creating a layered whole that is further complemented by exceptional set, lighting and sound design by Gary McCann, Chris Davey and Andy Graham respectively. 

This is a hard-hitting production with moments of utter horror, pure tension and, ultimately, a moving message about the enduring power of friendship and hope, even in the darkest of places. 

Mon 31 Oct - Sat 5 Nov, The Lowry,
The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ
Rachel Kevern
Published on:
Tue 1 Nov 2022