My first ever The Shawshank Redemption experience at the Newcastle Theatre Royal

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Somehow, I’d gone my 24 years of life without seeing The Shawshank Redemption - a Tuesday night at the Theatre Royal changed all that.

Just before the curtain opens for the Shawshank Redemption at the Theatre Royal, my pal gets an incredulous text from her mum - "what, he's never seen the film?!".

It's true. As I sat in eager anticipation for the production which rolls into the famous Newcastle theatre this week, I had no idea what the Shawshank plot was having never set eyes on the film or book.

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As lights dim, the curtain drops and three nude men trudge on stage to the heckle of prisoners, the world of Shawshank Redemption comes to life.

For anyone else living under a rock, the tale follows wrongly-convicted Andy Dufresne as he navigates the gritty life of the Shawshank State Penitentiary. BAFTA nominee Joe Absolom plays a brooding Dufresne whilst Ben Onwukwe, of London's Burning fame, is prison confidant Ellis 'Red' Redding.

David Esbjornson's adaption of the film excels early on in the production. Cold and simple staging for the prison looms large over the pitch-black theatre crowd whose deafening silence during courtyard confrontations is a world away from the giddy pantomime gags that have filled the same room for a month.

Onwukwe is an endearing narrator as Red with theatre-goers eating out of his palm long before you learn of his heinous crime. Meanwhile, Leigh Jones masters a wily physicality as Rooster which goes hand-in-hand with Jay Marsh's debauched Bogs Diamond.

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The play's first act thrives in the face-offs between inmates and whilst physical bust-ups require a little audience imagination for full effect, the threat of gang rape from the Sisters is truly sinister.

The second and longer act of The Shawshank Redemption play comes in peaks and troughs. When Kenneth Jay as Brooksie and Coulter Dittman as Tommy Williams are given their chance to shine, they take it - there's something brilliantly familiar about Jay's performance in particular.

The Shawshank Redemption is playing at the Theatre Royal (Image: Jack Merriman)The Shawshank Redemption is playing at the Theatre Royal (Image: Jack Merriman)
The Shawshank Redemption is playing at the Theatre Royal (Image: Jack Merriman)

As a spectator completely clueless about how the story would end, the tension that had been building for an hour and a half had me sure of some climatic finish. The eventual reveal of the hole in Dufresne's cell does lack the grandeur I had been geared up for, no doubt easier to do on screen than stage, but is saved by Onwukwe's brilliant closing monologue - a piece of theatre you could watch over and over again.

Leaving the Theatre Royal and returning to the biting Newcastle evening, I couldn't believe I had gone so long oblivious to The Shawshank Redemption and its tale. Whether you're a fan of the film or, like me, a complete stranger, the Theatre Royal production is full of the story's heart. Now, I best watch the film.

Get tickets to see The Shawshank Redemption at the Newcastle Theatre Royal here.

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