Review – The Shawshank Redemption, Wyndham’s Theatre

Friday 11 September 2009

shawshank redemption“Dreams are what the future is made of… Hope will take you there.”

Did someone really mean that? And what did they really mean? We can’t imagine. It’s writ large in bright lights along the marquee of the Wyndham’s Theatre where The Shawshank Redemption is playing. The Whingers spent much of the interval mulling it over last night but frankly they were none the wiser once their mulling was done.

Shawshank was, of course,  a rather agreeable film based on a novella by Stephen King. Then some people in Ireland decided to make it into a play which was put on at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre where – according to the hype surrounding the London transfer – it earned rave reviews. We could only find one review: it’s in the Irish Times written by Peter Crawley who seemed to like it well enough but he can hardly be described as raving.

But people are turning up in their droves regardless: there was hardly a spare seat in the stalls last night. It wasn’t available on TKTS and we’ve heard no rumours of the house being papered so we must assume these were mostly genuine punters attracted by the cachet of the film.

Many of them seemed to be American (a couple of them ovated at the end). Others had clearly been shipped in from the Theatre Royal Drury Lane where they are currently appearing in the audience of Oliver!. A woman behind Phil who was presumably familiar with the film was explaining to her companion what was about to happen next. Another had brought in a Starbucks iced drink and was slurping contentedly between rattling the ice throughout the first act. He or she must have popped out for another one during the interval judging by the continued baby’s rattle noises during the second act which ironically opened in the prison library with the instruction”Silence” chalked on the blackboard. But perhaps this audience hadn’t learnt to read yet.

A woman in front of Phil waited until the quietest moments to wriggle in her creaking seat making the Whingers faintly nostalgic for the Old Vic. The woman four seats away from Andrew must have had the world’s largest boiled sweet judging by the amount of time it took her to remove the wrapping. We’re not even going to mention the number and variety of mobile phone ringtones that punctuated the play.

There’s a suggested age limit of 15 due to nudity and bad language,  but clearly nothing to suggest what their mental age should be.  Actually that’s unfair, children (after the Whinger’s experience at Carrie’s War) know how to behave better than this motley mob.

Oh dear, there we go again, reviewing the audience instead of the play.

Shawshank Redemption 3Right. In this version Kevin Anderson (who played Joe Gillis opposite Patti LuPone in Sunset Boulevard in London) plays Andy Dufresne and Reg E. Cathey (who’s in The Wire) plays Red. Both are locked up in Shawshank prison which smells of shit, piss, blood and fear (we are only told this, by the way). Dufresne is banged up for a murder he did not commit, Red for one he did. We think. The Whingers’ attentions were wandering from quite early on to be honest. Anyway, one escapes and the other gets parole and dreams are what the future is made of and hope takes them there.

Strangely, there is little sense of the passing of time in the play. It all seems to take perhaps a year or eighteen months whereas about 20 years is supposed to have elapsed and in the film this is rather cleverly shown by the changing icons on Dufresne’s wall – Rita Hayworth, Marylin Monroe and Raquel Welch.

Shawshank Redemption 2

Still, the Whingers did feel that 20 years had quite possibly passed despite the fairly modest running time of 2 hours 10 minutes. 20 years in 140 minutes ought to feel very rushed but Shawshank is a strangely plodding experience, curiously flat and seems to contain very little in the way of anything much happening despite the fact that there’s a rape scene, a hanging, a lot of hitting people on the back of the thighs with cardboard batons and a couple of rather effective fight scenes which for once are not choreographed by Terry King (who would win in a stage fight, do you think? Terry King or Karl Magee?).

Mostly Shawshank just made the Whingers want to see the film again. Putting it on stage added nothing (other than a set that made them yearn for “Cell Block Tango”) and took away quite a lot. Still it will presumably do very well judging by the enthusiastic reception last night.

But back to “Dreams are what the future is made of… Hope will take you there.” What was it all about?

Shawshank Redemption 4

In the Irish Times, Mr Crawley said he saw in the play a Christ parable. The Whingers didn’t really get that. And who or what was redeemed? Try as we might all we could think about was Green Shield Stamps. Director Peter Sheridan says in the programme notes that it’s the story of two men who redeem one another. “Andy saves Red but has to look at the wreckage of his own past and confront it. Red saves Andy but not before he realises that he must allow hope into his head and into hs heart. They are bound up together and, without that friendship, there is no redemption.” Well, we obviously weren’t concentrating because we missed all of that. Phil quite liked the lighting.

One definition of redemption is ” the act of purchasing back something previously sold” but sadly the Wyndham’s box office wasn’t having any of it when we made polite enquiries on the way out.


Calendar Girls Meets Shawshank Redemption

Cafe Koha is the ideal place for a pre- and post-theatre drink as the outside seating affords an unrivalled viewpoint from which you can observe the various comings and goings from the Wyndham’s and Coward stage doors including actors popping out for a fag. It was lovely to see Calendar Girl Jerry Hall hanging out with some of the Shawshankers. We love Jerry.


18 Responses to “Review – The Shawshank Redemption, Wyndham’s Theatre”

  1. webcowgirl Says:

    You guys are just a steaming pile of bitterness. And well you should be. I, on the other hand, never had any intentions of seeing this play. Why did you go? I have just never once thought it had any hope of being any good at all.

    The Mysteries at the Garrick and An Inspector Calls at the Novello: what do you think, will either of these shows leave me feeling bitter? I haven’t bought tickets yet but perhaps there’s an obvious reason I should or shouldn’t go?

  2. karen ball Says:

    I laughed out loud at my desk at the shit, piss, blood and fear comment. Please stop trying to get me sacked.

  3. igb Says:

    Being one of the few people who actually paid money to see the film when it was first released, I’ve never quite seen what the fuss is about now it’s become the Citizen Kane de nos jours. Even if you take the Kermode version and chop the last sequence off, it’s still a piece of sentimental tosh with a wooden performance from Tim `Wooden’ Robbins.

    That said, the review asks who these people are who see such plays. And the answer is: the lower middle classes who, although they prefer films with clear linear narratives and broad emotions, have a subconscious belief that theatre is somehow far, far, smarter. So there’s a ready market for theatrical adaptations of simple films, because people who don’t know any better will pay ready money to see something mediocre in the theatre based on something medoicre they could see in the cinema. Sometimes the films are not mediocre, of course: Brief Encounter, say, or Sunset Boulevard. Sometimes they’re a lot worse than mediocre.

    Genuinely cinematic films don’t transfer well — hands up for Apocalpyse Now On Stage! — but then the lower middle classes never liked them anyway. But given a simple plot, some cheap emotion and some obvious narrative — the stuff of TV movies, really — you can construct a stage version that will lure in the semi-educated who believe they are somehow getting a theatrical experience. They don’t understand Shakespeare or Beckett and have never heard of Kane or Edgar, but they have a safe, predictable experience that offers something — theatre — that they don’t want but want to pretend they do.

    Alan Coren said that the great thing about Sainsburys was that it kept poor people out of Waitrose. Similarly, West End adaptations of films and the RSC.

  4. @ webcowgirl: Why did we go? Because they said it played to packed houses and rave reviews in Dublin.

    An Inspector Calls should be seen if you haven’t seen it. Strange how that production comes around every few years just when you’ve forgotten about it. It’s the Halley’s Comet of British theatre. Know nothing about Mysteries. It’s a mystery.

    @igb: Yes please to Apocalpyse Now On Stage! We’re desperate to see Ben Hur at the O2 which sounds almost as good. Having said that, we’re not desperate enough to pay the prices they are asking.

    • Jason Says:

      webcowgirl tells me she’s got some info about a Ben Hur 2-for-1 deal, so shoot her a line if you want to know about it.

      I’m all for Apocalypse Now on stage.

  5. “The Mysteries” is performed by the same wonderful African company who completely bowled me over with their fantastic version of The Magic Flute a couple of years back. You can read my enthusiastic-in-a-jumping-up-and-clapping-at-the-end review here:

  6. Kat Brown Says:

    The lack of ageing was really rather frightening, unlike the Sisters who seemed to have stepped straight out of Popeye. Had a little cry at the end though which was shaming, but that ending gets me every time.

  7. Baldassaro Says:

    It’s got one of those horrible three word titles (definite article – proper noun – ordinary noun) which makes it sound like a Robert Ludlum thriller. I’m planning to write one called The Wombat Assignation one day. That alone has been quite adequate to keep me away from the film version so far, and this review helps to stiffen my sinews for avoiding the stage version too.

  8. jay Says:

    Theres a great show on at The New London Theatre in Dury Lane called War horse,i really recommend it!

    • Geoffrey Shunt Says:

      I saw it on monday. Great puppets, no plot, oh yes, sorry, boy gets horse, boy loses horse, both get into a scrape, and get reunited.
      The period and setting are immaterial and poorly enacted , well, nice tank.
      For what I paid for it, too much was left to the imagination,
      -and since when did great war officers go up at the end? clipped tones lad, clipped tones

  9. John Says:

    My wife and I saw this play recently, after coming across it on a stroll through ther West End.

    Yes, it has some nudity, yes the language is pretty strong, and yes, the characters don’t age. But throughout the play we were utterly gripped by the action. The realism of the sexual abuse scenes and the violence waa disturbing but necessary. The main characters carried the story well and Reg E. Cathey’s portrayal of Red was spellbinding and very moving.

    At the end of the production there was a standing ovation – richly deserved from a fine cast and a more than successful adaptation from book to film to stage.

  10. paddy moriarty Says:

    This is complete rubbish and mesmerising that it reached The West End. Awful direction from a director who has no understanding whatsoever of the material. Cathey’s RED was worth paying say 15 quid to see but 62 quid – no way ! They are having a laugh !

    It was hated by most in Dublin – really hated – and I really dont understand why they bothered. It received one review in Dublin. O ……The director obviously got the gig because he directed the movie version of Behan’s Borstal Boy – did he ? ooooooops !!!!!!

    Someone has done their money here big time !

    • joe h Says:

      This show sold out in Dublin.Standing ovations EVERY NIGHT.Queues for return tickets. snd you say dublin hated it ! Paddy ,your an ass. ps; Its returning to Dublin in May this year.BOOK NOW

  11. kim Says:

    I am planning a trip to UK to see my family . I am 50 and taking my 21 year old son. he wants to see a Chelsea game and Shawshank Redemtion (one of his top 10 films) shall I take him …

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