• Sun. Jul 14th, 2024

Review: The Shawshank Redemption

ByEmily Moffett

Apr 26, 2023

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Shawshank Redemption is nothing short of extraordinary. A study of humanity, the play begs questions of the possibilities of redemption and the capacity of the human spirit for resilience. At points humorous, and at other points devastatingly tragic, the production is undoubtedly a modern-day masterpiece. 

Based on the novella by Stephen King and the subsequent film adaptation, The Shawshank Redemption follows the innocent Andy Dufresne (Joe Absolom) as he is wrongfully convicted for his wife’s murder. Once at Shawshank Prison, he suffers brutal mistreatment and is roped into helping the prison commit tax fraud. 

As Andy tries to prove his innocence, he repeatedly runs into roadblocks. Meanwhile, every day in Shawshank offers its own trials and tribulations. The script is flipped as the villains are the prison guards and administrators; while our heroes are the convicts. A pointed critique of the injustices perpetrated by the American justice system, this production is eye-opening and frightening. 

Still, Dufresne’s life in Shawshank is not solely a devilish nightmare. Dufresne is a fighter, an inspiring figure of cleverness and grit. He makes friends, builds up the prison library, and helps an inmate study for his exams. Within the soul-sucking confines of the prison, there are still instances of light, generosity, and admirable resilience. 

The set is austere and intimidating. The only props that inspire any hope or comfort are the books within the library that Dufresne fought so hard to obtain. The overall mise en scène of the stone prison is flawless — a foreboding fortress that strikes fear in our hearts for Dufresne and his comrades. Interpolated snippets of classic songs such as Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ make the production even more immersive and enjoyable. The show as a whole feels utterly seamless. 

The star of the show is Ellis ‘Red’ Redding (Bill Onwukwe). His affecting final speech left me in tears, and Onwukwe’s acting is impeccable. Red’s resilience and wisdom, as well as his connection with Andy, make him an admirable figure. As a prison contraband smuggler who murdered his wife and others 40 years ago, he is flawed and tortured. Yet, the audience will root for him and we hope he adjusts to life ‘on the outside.’ Therein lies the power of this production: it champions the possibility of redemption. 

The Shawshank Redemption will burrow into your heart and stay there. The atrocities and injustices within the prison will leave audiences devastated, and the kindness and camaraderie of the prison inmates will in part restore faith in a complicated humanity. Humorous, clever, and heartbreaking, this production refuses to be forgotten. 

The Festival Theatre, April 24th – 29th

Images by Capital Theatres provided via Press Release