Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Shawshank Redemption - Gaiety Theatre

This play is based on Stephen King's 1982 novella 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption', the same story that inspired the 1994 film 'Shawshank Redemption' featuring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins. It is an adaptation of the book, not the film. That's what we're being told.

I don't buy it. Kevin Anderson (who plays Andy Dufresne) is disguised as Tim Robbins, from his gestures to his hair tips, so familiar that if you squinted you'd think he had a button nose. Reg Cathey (who plays Red) impersonates Morgan Freeman rather well. He drawls with that deep, charismatic rumble. But essentially it is just an impersonation, with no real truth until the final scene when he drops the fa├žade and acts like a real man instead of an icon. The play, though well produced and loaded with talent, felt to me more like a variety show than an emotional narrative. Perhaps that's because it was never based on Stephen King's novella at all. I think it was written as a nostalgic cash-in, never supposed to be exceptional, just a reminder of the brilliance of the cinema, a cue to the emotions of the filmic rendition without any substance itself. Like a reef in a tropical fish tank, it is engaging at times and quite pretty, but if you've seen the real thing it comes across contrived.

This might seem a little harsh, but if you bring a film to the stage you're not in it for the art. Either you think it's time to earn some extra dollar or you have a penchant for cabaret (or both). Nearly every title on this pipeline ends up 'The Musical'. So when I heard about Shawshank Redemption on stage I was cynical. I thought, when do we get the song and dance? Will there be an overture? Will the sodomy have a vocal accompaniment? Will it be catchy? Ultimately I was relieved: Musical performance was marginal. However, the play fell short in other parts. It felt rushed, stitched and staccato, as though the director (Peter Sheridan) wanted to remind the audience of as many scenes from the movie as possible, like a show reel. Many times I felt the bud of emotion in my belly, to then have it crushed by a sequence of unexpected, insignificant comedy. Soon enough I was yearning for the close. Get it over with, thought I, so I can go home and watch the real thing.

It was a great imitation, but you can't ask a stage director to compete with timeless cinema. It was a mistake, at least artistically, to try that road. Some of you might say, 'maybe he was trying to adapt the book after all.' Then why is Red played by a black man? In 'Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption' he's white and ginger. The play is named after the screenplay and cast like the film. Despite some deviations in favour of the novella, it straddles the back of the Freeman/Robbins brand, selling itself on nostalgia. Reg Cathey shines, but it's a shame to see him wasted on caricature.

DIARIT: 6/10

1 comment:

  1. I think most sodomy has a vocal accompaniment, albeit fairly basic. I think a musical accompaniment would be more interesting. "Love Hurts" by Cher, perhaps?