THE Shawshank Redemption regularly hovers near the top of polls for the best film of all time, so taking on the lead role for the stage might seem a tad daunting.
That may be why lead Ian Kelsey stopped himself from re-watching the big screen version before heading out on tour as prison ‘lifer’ Andy Dufresne – the part played on film by Oscar-winning actor Tim Robbins.
“I had it set up but before Tim Robbins actually spoke I turned it off. I thought it has to be done my way. I have to make the part mine,” adds Ian, who explains that the film’s popularity has helped make the stage play a success.
“It’s an advantage for us because it means people are already interested in the subject matter,” says the Yorkshireman and graduate of the Guildford School of Acting.
“We’re constantly meeting people at the stage door who say that they were nervous about coming to see their favourite film on the stage because they wanted it to work – and it does.”
Ian says that big fans of the film will notice a few differences because the play is based on Stephen King’s original novella rather than the movie version, but believes that the themes still resonate.
His character, Andy, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of his wife and her lover, and faces a violent welcome to jail. However, he is soon protected by the warders after the governor starts using him in a money laundering scam.
“Andy doesn’t conform,” says Ian. “There are lots of guys that do, like Brooks, the prison librarian; he doesn’t want to leave. He’s spent most of his life in there and when he gets the chance to leave he can’t face it… that’s the awful thing that can happen to these guys.”
Ian’s co-star is Patrick Robinson, who plays Red (Morgan Freeman in the film). And despite being a fellow Casualty favourite – Patrick has played the TV doctor Martin ‘Ash’ Ashford off and on for over 25 years – the pair had never worked together before.
“Patrick was in Casualty way before me and then when he came back I’d already been and gone, so we were never in it at the same time,” recalls Ian.
“But he’s brilliant; really brilliant. As soon as I met him I knew I was in safe hands. We have to put across this friendship every night and it’s easy. He’s a good lad to work with.”
The Shawshank Redemption will be playing at Woking’s New Victoria Theatre, from Monday, November 9 until Saturday, November 14.