The stage adaptation of 'Shawshank Redemption' opens in Shenzhen, China

After being banned in China, Stephen King's „The Shawshank Redemption” made its much-anticipated debut as a stage play on Jan. 4 in the country's tech capital, Shenzhen. Adding to its unusual status, the play was performed in Chinese by Western actors. Actors based in Middle Kingdom.

Based on King's novel “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”, the 1994 Frank Darabont film adaptation “The Shawshank Redemption” starring Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins is one of the most popular and enduring films of all time with millions of viewers around the world. Thirty years later, it continues to appear on lists of most popular films. Complete with corrupt prison officials and a tricky jailbreak, the story takes a close look at a friendship and the fears of inmates locked up at Shawshank State Penitentiary, a maximum security prison.

The film has a sensational history in China. Although the original was produced at a time when China had few modern cinemas and imported a limited number of Hollywood films, it was later given prominence and played as the closing title of the 2005 edition of the Shanghai International Film Festival. But online searches for “Shawshank” were blocked on the Chinese Internet and social media in 2012 following a US-China diplomatic incident following the real-world escape of blind lawyer Chen Guangcheng from house arrest. The film's anti-authoritarian slant may also have fueled the temporary ban.

The new stage adaptation aims to go beyond that and portray a message of hope and tolerance. It is directed by well-known actor and film director Zhang Guoli (“Back to 1942,” “601st Telephone Call”).

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The narrator, Red, is played by Canadian Mark Roswell, better known by his Chinese name Da Shan. Beijing-born, American actor Andy Friend (Ann D), whose credits include Chinese blockbusters “The Wandering Earth” and “Battle on Lake Songjin,” plays corrupt warden Greg Stamas. Two other villainous antagonists, Rooster and Hadley, are portrayed by Sean Patrick Moore and Matt William Knowles („Azura,” „Son of the South”) respectively, while Australia's James Clark plays the hero Andy.

Zhang says he translated the Western version of the story into a unique cultural context for China. He promises to present the linguistic evolution of the story with the nuances of two cultures.

„The play was translated from the English version and then adapted using ideas from Stephen King's novel and ideas from the film,” Knowles said. Variety. „Although the play is still set in Maine, all the characters speak fluent Chinese, and there is a mix of Chinese cultural concepts and phrases to localize for a Chinese audience.”

Zhang and Robbins previously worked together on the 2011 Chinese epic film „Back to 1942,” and the pair have maintained a dialogue, with Zhang informing Robbins about preparations for the stage show. “When the producer first asked me to direct this play, you were the first person I thought of. As you know, 'The Shawshank Redemption' is a favorite movie among Chinese fans. Your character Andy brings hope and inspiration. For this production, we have brought together actors from 7 countries and performed on stage for the first time in Chinese. We are planning to visit 20 cities next year. I hope this classic work will continue to shine brightly on the Chinese stage, bringing hope and strength to the people,” Zhang said in a letter.

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Previous stage adaptations are available. In 2009, Owen O'Neill and Dave Johns were behind the version that premiered in Dublin. It later went on to Broadway in London, New York and elsewhere.

The Chinese show is co-produced by China Dream Live Entertainment and Langma Entertainment. „The Shawshank Redemption” will run in Shenzhen from Jan. 12-14 before touring to Shanghai (Jan. 18-21) and Beijing (Jan. 25-28).

The Shawshank Redemption

The Shawshank Redemption
Everett Collection

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