Kevin Anderson and Reg. E. Cathey
in The Shawshank Redemption
Kevin Anderson and Reg. E. Cathey
in The Shawshank Redemption
The Shawshank Redemption was a ripping yarn when Stephen King wrote it as a 1982 novella and it remained a ripping yarn in 1994 when Frank Darabont adapted and directed it as a movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman. Fortunately, The Shawshank Redemption is still a ripping yarn now that Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns have adapted it for the London stage.

Director Peter Sheridan has given it a crisp prison-door-clanging-shut production with Kevin Anderson, Reg E. Cathey and a cast of actors bringing the right quirks to their roles as prison staff and con men, some of whom have hearts and some of whom only have night sticks, fists or other aggressive body parts.

It does no harm that surrounding every incarnation of King's tale is the strong whiff of a Christian allegory, which the productive author seems to waft through the fetid air whenever he goes behind bars. The Christ figure here is Andy Dufresne (Anderson), a banker in Maine's Shawshank Prison for murdering his wife and her lover -- allthough he protests his innocence and ticket buyers, if not the characters, rightly believe him from the get-go.

Andy soon befriends fellow inmate Red (Cathey), who declares "I can get things" and supplies the newcomer with a rock hammer and posters -- one large, one larger -- of actress Rita Hayworth. Meanwhile, over a period of time, Andy gets the prison guards on his side by doing their taxes, and later ups the ante with tough-minded warden Stammas (Mitchell Mullen) by adroitly cooking the prison books. But that's only so he can strike deals whereby he expands the library and obtains other perks for his peers -- often while wearing a beatific smile.

All isn't smooth going for Andy, however. He endures -- sometimes for himself and sometimes for his peers -- stretches of solitary confinement. He faces frustration when proof of his innocence is squelched by Stammas, and there are even worse ignominies. His travails could be likened to the stations of the cross. Yet, King's title promises redemption, and it does materialize. Indeed, whether The Shawshank Redemption is realistic or more akin to scare-tactics fantasy -- or whether the plot has holes large enough to accommodate a prison break -- doesn't matter when the fun-with-a-message-factor is so potent.

Anderson, who first made his name as a crazed youth in Orphans, transforms himself into a man who fights back but also turns the other cheek. Cathey couldn't be more convincing at playing a pragmatist who regards hope as wasted energy; while Geoffrey Hutchings as the compulsive librarian Brooksie seizes his several opportunities to shine, as do Mullen, Joe Hanley as thuggish Bogs and Diarmuid Noyes as the nearly illiterate and doomed Tommy. They all put the fine ritual of acting in service to the percussive spiritual ritual that The Shawshank Redemption aims to be and ultimately is.