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The Shawshank Redemption - Curve Review

Stephen King's novel, The Shawshank Redemption, is best known for its Hollywood movie adaptation which stars Tim Robins and Morgan Freeman. The movie has enjoyed cult status since its 1994 release and back in 2009, the stage version of the novel premiered. Fast forward 13 years and the show embarks on its first UK tour. 

Ben Onwukwe and Joe Absolom in The Shawshank Redemption. Photo by Jack Merriman.

The adaptation by Irish comedians Dave Johns and Owen O'Neill will delight those familiar with the story but could leave others cold. I fell somewhere in between. 

Shawshank in the title is the prison that the characters find themself in for a variety of crimes including murder. The central character Andy Dufresne, a banker who wrongly set down for the murder of his wife and her love. He initially becomes an isolated figure and we're told he spends the first year virtualy silent. 

Dufrense is played excellently by Joe Absolom. Throughout the show he continually grows whilst the whole time he is cleverly plotting away. He is a figure that is constantly beaten, falling foul of the jail bullies but comes into his own as he uses his own banking knowledge to 'help' balance the books with Warden Stammas, played by Mark Heenehan. 

Absolom is matched by another tremendous performance by Ben Onwukwe as 'Red'. 'Red' is the jail fixer who can seemingly get anything at the right price for his fellow inmates. The one thing 'Red' can't secure is his own parole. Onwukwe is in complete control throughout and commands a strong stage presence and you feel great warmth towards the character based on the performance.

Joe Absolom, Leigh Jones and  Jay Marsh in The Shawshank Redemption.Photo by Jack Merriman.

Heenehan well rounds Warden Stammas especially in the second act when the manipultive darkness of the character comes out. In a drama full of convicts it's undoubtely the authority that becomes the villians and Heenehan relishes the role.

In the all male 12 strong cast theres some great supporting performances. The likeable prison librarian Brooksie, played by Kenneth Jay, is a sweet presence who unravels as his parole is up but he knows his time in jail will deny him a library card out the outside. Leigh Jones and Jay Marsh impress as the two jail bullies Rooster and Bogs Diamond. Jones in particular becomes a Joker presence as he maniacally laughs at most occasions. 

The drama is embossed by clever staging designed by Gary McCann. The use a variety of props to change the locatons within the prison is simplistic but that works for what is required in what would be a quite basic setting. We're left in no doubt of the brutality of the world.

Undeniably the piece loses its way at times, dialogue become a little heavy and the pace slows to a hault. The show will delight those already familiar with the story either from the original novel or the movie adaptation, for others it can feel like a jail sentence.  It's brutal and dark in the right places and the fantastic performances keep you engaged throughout.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐

The Shawshank Redemption plays at Curve until Saturday 15th October 2022. Tickets are avaialbe from The tour continues visiting Milton Keynes, Guildford, Salford and Birmingham. For details visit

The Cast of Shawshank Redemption. Photo by Jack Merriman

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