David Esbjornson brought the classic 1995 film, The Shawshank Redemption, to life on The Lowry stage. Originally a novel by Stephen King, The Shawshank Redemption is a story about corruption, friendship and strength. Starring Eastender’s star, Joe Absolom, and Ben Onwukwe, this production was an intense rollercoaster of emotions.

Right from the opening Ellis ‘Red’ Redding, played by Ben Onwukwe, was an immediate stand-out. Onwukwe’s depiction of Red was incredible. Like in the film, Red was used as a narrator throughout the show, keeping the audience up to speed on what was happening. When the rest of the cast would freeze and the focus was on Onwukwe, he really knew how to command the audience and bring them in, making us cling on and listen to every word he said. His American accent was spectacular. He really managed to master the deep and commanding voice synonymous with the original Red actor, Morgan Freeman. He also was one of the only characters to make me audibly laugh with some of his reactions, and was a comforting bit of comic relief at times.

The set of this production was very impressive. It was cold and sterile, and perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of a run-down prison. Furthermore, the use of lighting was very strategic, certain sections of the stage were isolated with harsh and prison-esque lighting, which made the moment more impactful. For instance, the scenes which depicted the lead, Andy Dufresne’s, sexual assault were highlighted with this harsh lighting, but then when the actual assault was taking place the stage went completely dark. This made this uncomfortable scene even more powerful and eerie.

Another way in which the stage was made eerie, was by the clever use of background noise to create the ambiance of a prison. At times the audience could hear clanking sounds and the low hum of chattering which made the whole thing even more real. Also, the use of old music was a motif throughout the play, and cleverly used between set changes to help move the story along.

The set changes were seamless. Typically, set changes are something you wouldn’t really take note of during a performance, but in my opinion, they were really impressive. They used cast members most of the time to transition the set, rather than solely stage-hands. Moreover, it was marvellous how they had things like bookcases, ceiling lights, and wooden office walls cascading down from above the stage.

The end of the production was the highlight of the show. Red’s emotional monologue and narration of events was so poignant and effective. When the back stage walls suddenly opened to reveal Zihuatanejo beach and Dufresne standing there, it was a moving and quite emotional moment, which received a loud round of applause from the audience, who had been completely silent and enthralled in the play up until this moment. The perfect ending to an overall impressive, intense, and dramatic production.

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