It is 21 years since this Stephen King short story shot to fame as a movie starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins.
Now switched to the stage, the jail-based story follows the tale of Andy (Ian Kelsey), protesting his innocence despite being handed a double life-sentence for two brutal murders, and his unlikely alliance with prison fixer Red (Patrick Robinson), as they struggle against the scrupulous Warden Stammas (Owen O’Neill).
The film is a well-loved classic with two of Hollywood’s most accomplished actors in the leads. It’s a tough act for Kelsey and Robinson to follow but they acquit themselves well, with convincing accents and a believable portrayal of the developing friendship between the two inmates.
Of the supporting cast, Ian Barrit is the strongest as lifer librarian Brooksie but elsewhere some of the minor characters are more caricature than individually drawn people.
David Esbjornson’s direction emphasises an episodic nature with musical breaks between scenes, placing the story historically but preventing a build up of atmosphere. Dan Samson’s sound design misses opportunities to enhance the drama with incidental sound; when it does come it then seems overly forced.
The essence of the story remains and while fans of the film won’t find quite the same level of storytelling here it retains much of the dramatic impact, taking from grim surroundings a tale of human survival that can leave us all with a little hope.