Omid Djalili has to be one of the bravest and funniest actors alive in the country today. Before Shawshank, we saw him do one of his regular stand-up comedy nights where he was preparing his set for a forthcoming tour. We did not stop laughing throughout, yet it was clear from his appealing self-deprecation that he wanted it constantly to be better. The sense of an actor and comedian pushing himself to the limit as he threw his new jokes at us – cutting the edge without going over it – was compelling and the show, when finished, will surely be something to see.
Those who have missed his stand-up might have seen him also on Splash! On this diving version of Strictly, he threw his formidably bulky mankini-clad form, swallow fashion, from the top board, repeatedly.
Where does anyone, never mind an untrained comedian, find the courage to do that?
So no wonder, in the sell-out adaptation of Stephen King’s bestseller that runs until the end of this month at the Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh, the audience really does feel it lives through the life of the justly and unjustly imprisoned in the raw.
Owen O’Neill, who also plays the corrupt prison warden Stammas and Dave Johns have adapted The Shawshank Redemption for the stage and directed here by Lucy Pitman-Wallace, Gary McCann’s clever set of boxy movable cages gives it from the start that necessary sense of time-serving dread. Like the book, which it references more closely than the film, this play brings across the likeable humanity of people who have committed dreadful crimes, while others remain simply beyond redemption in their nastiness and bullying.
Graphic depictions of man-on-man rape from the novel are not stinted but if anything dwelled upon with greater focus, happening almost in slow motion beneath the full intensity of the claustrophobic prison spotlight. We become unwilling voyeurs of the attempt to break the spirit of Andy Defresne, given a suitably upright yet slightly mysterious air by Kyle Secor. A special treat for me as an old Dad’s Army fan was an almost unrecognizable Ian Lavender as the lovable Brooksie.
This show was an illustration especially of how the best actors such as Omid do not just give more than the sum of their part to the other actors, but give out also to every single member of an audience.
Testament to how good this show is, besides the crowds scrambling for tickets every night, is that a sound system that struggled to get the voices up to our seats in the gods was in the end subsumed by the story and the actors. Once our ears were attuned, we did not miss a word, as if it was going in through our eyes and our skin. I love theatre most when it compels me to live through it as a human being rather than merely observe it as a reporter. Shawshank did that and more, leaving us to reflect long afterwards on the nature of justice and injustice in our society, and how love and friendship can endure and survive the bottomless depths of humanity’s cruelty to humanity.
Review by Ruth Gledhill @ruthiegledhill
Tuesday 20th August 2013