Theatre review: The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: The Shawshank Redemption at Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), reviewed by Mark Fisher

That people quite like Frank Darabont’s 1994 movie has never surprised me. It’s enjoyable enough. A bit long, a bit obvious, a bit self-righteous but, with captivating performances by Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman, it’s certainly watchable.

Even so, that many people rate The Shawshank Redemption as their favourite film ever, I find inexplicable. Why this prison escape drama should be singled out above any number of perfectly decent films of a similar ilk is beyond me. You don’t have to dislike it to wonder what the fuss is about.

But clearly, there’s something in its story about a man wrongly accused of a double murder, who suffers the injustices of prison inmates and warders, who plays the system with brain and a little brawn, who proves victorious in his own terms (artistic but not effeminate) that affects cinemagoers in a deep way.

And love it they clearly do, which is why it seems a shrewd move to adapt it (or, rather, Stephen King’s original novella) for the stage. With an all-male cast of ten and a set of towering cages designed by Gary McCann, it’s one of the Fringe’s biggest productions and one that gives the movie’s fans exactly what they came for.

In the Morgan Freeman role, Omid Djalili plays Red, the penitentiary’s black-market trader, with a stocky assurance, feet planted firmly on the ground, an invulnerable figure in a ruthless environment. His direct audience address makes theatrical sense where it feels intrusive on film; he’s our way into the story as well as the rock on which the gem-collecting Andy Dufresne can most depend.

Played by Kyle Secor, Dufresne is a lanky enigma: tall but not dominant, wise but not weak, brooding but not uncivil. Visually as well as emotionally, his partnership with Red, standing together like a
hall-of-mirrors Laurel and Hardy, suggests a sense of balance and wholeness.

As writers, Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns do a crisp job of condensing the story’s key events, while director Lucy Pitman-Wallace maximises the potential of McCann’s moveable set, keeping the action flowing from cell to canteen to library. Yes, it could be more malevolent and ultimately more moving, but it’s a show that achieves what it sets out to do, with no small amount of polish.

Until 25 August. Today 4:50pm

More info: The Shawshank Redemption is at Assembly Rooms

Originally published in The Scotsman

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