The Shawshank Redemption at The Alex review by Wallis Brown

The Alexandra Theatre welcomed us in the from the cold, dreary weather of a Monday evening with their exemplary hospitality and the promise of talent and the live story telling of The Shawshank Redemption.

I like many others, love the story of misfortune and unlikely friendships, was overjoyed when the offer to attend the press night in one of my favourite theatres landed in my inbox.

The Alex’s charming and intimate space, adds so much to every show taking place there.

Not to mention how the staff, are some of the friendliest people you could ever hope to take care of you, especially in an establishment where you’re there to be amused and entertained.

After settling in and sampling the refreshments, one of which was an espresso martini and I am told by my companion, it maybe the best he’s ever tried, we took to our seats and waited for the rise of the gorgeous gold tasselled and velvet blue curtains.

I wanted to jump onstage and pry poor Andy from their grasps, so that’s an extremely big nod to the actors for antagonising me so much. Oh and the pull ups bogs was showcasing on a beam, had me thinking I definitely needed to up my gym game!

Opening to reveal a stage set that transformed the space into the steely, iron cages of the Shawshank.

Capturing the chilling environment of the grey stone walls and echoing cold landings, where armed guards patrol and stalk over their prisoners. Reminiscent of a fish bowl, giving the saying, shooting fish in a barrel, a very vivid and eerie image.

When Red, played masterly by Ben Onwukwe, took to the stage and opened the production with his deep voiced narration, I just knew I was going to be blown away. I could see the character portrayed in a way I am familiar to him but with the actors own air to it and that is exactly what the audience was looking for and the undivided attention from all of us, showed we were hooked – and that was just from the introduction.

So by the time they all stepped out, dressed in double denim and heavy duty boots, I was raring for the performances I would witness and cheer to at the curtain close.

Andy Dufresne, portrayed by Joe Absolom, was executed with all the awkward gestured and babbling innocent charm, of the character that is impossible not to love. He had me engrossed and rooting for him the moment he was being heckled and picked on in the yard.

The Sisters, Bogs and Rooster, who’s performances were given to us by Leigh James and Samarge Hamilton, delivered one side of the sinister world Shawshank provided. The villainous cackling, taunting and abuse both characters horrified us with, couldn’t of been more spot on for me.

I wanted to jump onstage and pry poor Andy from their grasps, so that’s an extremely big nod to the actors for antagonising me so much. Oh and the pull ups bogs was showcasing on a beam, had me thinking I definitely needed to up my gym game!

The interaction between all the cast and relationships created on that beautifully lit platform was heart-warming and heart-breaking. A well made production needs that sort of chemistry and this family of actors certainly pulled this off.

When I finally saw my man Brooksie, over the moon doesn’t even cover it, the choice of actor (Kenneth Jay) was perfect. An awful deed put him inside the dreaded walls he grew to see as home, but I couldn’t help but want to give him a massive hug and sit down to read a book in his company. I loved the portrayal of the prison’s librarian.

Then there’s the most evil of all, Warden Stammas and Captain Hadley (Mark Heenehan, Joe Reisig) brought the horror of the Shawshank to life, with their god playing tactics and evil behaviour. The atmosphere that descends on the stage with each act they grace, from the scenes of heartless actions committed by the pair, while benefiting and coving their own backs was outstanding. Props to their performances, all intimidating, bellowing and threating as they were.

All of the other convicted and captive souls, had me laughing at times, as well as riveted with their own tales of woe, as well as their energy and unspoken solidarity with one an other. I will say though that Rico (Jules Brown), really needs a better place to store his favourite pages from his library book. You’ll get it when you see it and see it you most definitely should!

Seeing any form of art, whether it’s in a museum with sculptures and painting, a concert with your favourite musicians or in this case a theatre with a production such as this. It should have you leaving with emotions and experiences that far outweigh the ones you arrived with.

This depiction of The Shawshank Redemption, has achieved this with me and I whole heartedly expect it to with any one else who sits in them stalls after me.

Words by Wallis Brown for Grapevine Birmingham. *photos © by