It began as a Stephen King novella, became an Oscar-nominated film — and then it was rewritten for the stage.
The latest production of The Shawshank Redemption, at Leeds Grand Theatre this week, comes some 21 years after the cult film was released — but it still struggled to match its cinematic predecessor.
Theatrical adaptations can and often do introduce exciting, interesting new adaptations of much-loved stories — but the play takes a moving, inspiring tale and strips it to its bare bones.
The narrative is there — wrongly imprisoned Andy Dufresne befriends Red the prison fixer, Brooksie the librarian struggles with his pending release date, and Warden Stammas (Norton in the film) bullies Andy into cooking the books for his own profit.
But the heart, the emotional depth that made the 1994 film as timeless and rewatchable as it is, is gone.
The characters are woefully underdeveloped — Patrick Robinson gets plenty of laughs as prison fixer Red, berating Andy for his mistakes and cussing out other prisoners, but has no real depth beyond 'the man who can get things'.
Poignant lines — including the 'caged bird' speech and his final monologue in which he hopes 'the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams' — become contrived, even rushed, and while Robinson commands the audience well, he can't match Freeman's solemnity and it the play is poorer for it.
Sadly, the other characters suffer from a script that reduces them to two-dimensional caricatures, with forced laughs and cheap shocks.
Bogs Diamond (Kevin Mathurin) and Rooster (Leigh Jones), the 'Sisters', are typical bullies but lack the terrifying menace and cruelty needed to make the audience worry for Andy, even after the rape scenes.
The storyline also ends messily, with Andy's injuries downplayed and Rooster intergrated into the main 'gang', with almost flippant references to his predatory nature.
Warden Stammas, while God-fearing and superior, also fails to intimidate — he's mean, sure, but he's not the psychopathic, vindictive little man that would drive an innocent man to desperate measures.
The passage of time is unclear without the literal references in the script, and some scenes are cut short in a way that confuses the narrative and could leave people who had not seen the film (although I think you'd struggle to find them) wondering what was going on.
At times the pace feels rushed and some scenes used as filler — and sadly the ending fails to achieve the same thrilling, emotional, inspirational climax as Frank Darabont's film.
I appreciate that the stage adaptation draws more from the novella and is not aiming for the same sombre tone as the screenplay.
But that doesn't explain the play's preference for crude one-liners and melodrama above the story's emotional core.
If you can put the film out of your mind completely (hats off to you if you can), the play follows a straightforward 'goodies and baddies' theme and injects a good dose of expletive-ridden comedy.
But if you're looking for a deeper examination of human nature, determination, morality and redemption, you may be disappointed.