PETER CRAWLEYreviews The Shawshank Redemptionin the Gaiety, Dublin and JOAN ALLENreviews The Magic of Gilbert and Sullivanat the NCH, Dublin while SEONA MAC RÉAMOINNreviews Loin/Farat the Dublin Dance Festival

The Shawshank Redemption

Gaiety, Dublin

The prison library in Shawshank state penitentiary holds precious few surprises. So limited and familiar is its small supply of books that Brooksie (Keir Dullea), the librarian inmate, has taken to reordering their pages and Sellotaping together different structures, so that an extremely familiar tale can find a new spin.

That’s the challenge for the makers of The Shawshank Redemption. A large-scale theatrical adaptation of a relatively obscure Stephen King novella (there’s a very famous film adaptation too), it tries to pace the perimeter of an audience’s expectations and somehow still break free.

The best news about the latest Lane Productions commercial venture is that, for a show with such in-built appeal, it is better than it needs to be. Writers Owen O’Neill and Dave Johns recognise that King’s story has almost become a contemporary folk tale, thereby rattling through otherwise complicated exposition and plot points. They also find a limited but elegant number of ways to distinguish their version.

Wrongly convicted of the murder of his wife and her lover, banker Andy Dufresne (Kevin Anderson) arrives at Shawshank with the preternatural confidence, ability and equipoise of a religious deity. Red (Reg E Cathey), a pragmatist who “knows how to get things” (except hope for a life beyond Ferdia Murphy’s prison-bar set), sees something spiritual in the new inmate. “Andy seemed to carry around an inner light inside him,” he says, evangelically. Indeed, Andy even creates a new prayer.

Without forcing this Christ parable, director Peter Sheridan does assured work moving a similarly familiar story briskly between locations, expertly aided by Kevin Treacy’s subtly shifting lights. But O’Neill and Johns have clearly inherited two texts, with one subtext, and struggle to create something new. We get a neatly illustrative conversation on chess, a clever handling of Diarmuid Noyes’s arc as Tommy (whose character has now had three separate endings, none of them pleasant) and a significant butterfly motif, which – sweet as it is – clangs with the Christ allegory like a theatrical mixed metaphor.

Most encouraging are the signs of a show that has clearly put its money on the stage and hints constantly that with more development and rights flexibility, it could achieve something greater. When Murphy’s striking set directly recalls Jailhouse Rock(without ever seeming campy), when the prisoners start up their own band, when one beautiful scene involves a stirring harmony of the hymn, Rock of Ages, the show seems ready to burst into song and is almost clearing its throat in anticipation.

Sheridan and Murphy admirably nudge the prison and the prisoners towards greater stylisation, a liberating manoeuvre worthy of a musical, yet it’s hard to buy the play’s central friendship. Anderson overplays Andy’s arrogance to the point of antipathy, perhaps realising that in the current economic climate it’s hard to root for a banker so adept at committing tax fraud.

Cathey, hoarse and engagingly weathered, is far more sympathetic. His handling of the play’s emotional music suggests that a Christian narrative of hope and redemption is precisely what we need – not Jesus Christ Superstarbut Shawshank Redemption: The Musical. Until June 20 PETER CRAWLEY

The Magic of Gilbert and Sullivan

NCH, Dublin

William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, two creative Victorians who were once referred to by writer Stephen Williams as a “pair of sparkling guys”, collaborated on 14 comic operas, of which 13 are extant. Nine of these were represented in this Jim Molloy promotion at the National Concert Hall.

Charles Court Opera is a small British-based company that tours a neatly packaged concert of Gilbert and Sullivan items performed by five singers and a piano duo. The mix of items, clearly aimed at an audience of G&S aficionados, and probably intended for more intimate performing venues, is clever. Not all of the excerpts were the expected ones, and there were a couple of rarities: an early dropped song for Shadbolt in The Yeomen of the Guardand a usually cut second verse of a Ruddigoreduet.

In some of the items, extended passages of script fell victim to the venue’s dislike of the spoken word. By contrast, John Savourin’s succinct links were clearly enunciated. Savourin’s light bass also took the main vocal honours, although he was closely followed by Anne-Marie Cullum’s clear soprano, Louise Crane’s successful straddling of mezzo and contralto roles, and the lyrical tenor of David Menzes. The piano duo of David Eaton and James Young provided strong support.

But the musical pleasures were compromised by a general lack of firm rhythmic control. Melodic lines that should have been savoured by the soloists were sacrificed to the tyranny of the accompaniment’s rhythmic thrust. Scrambled strettilacked both verbal clarity and musical articulation, while slower passages almost ground to a halt. Last minute stand-in baritone Simon Butteriss, a renowned practitioner in the Grossmith comic roles, was a victim of both these extremes: his Iolanthenightmare song was so gabbled that not one word came across, while his “Tit willow” was positively lethargic. JOHN ALLEN

Dublin Dance Festival: Loin/Far

Project Space Upstairs

There is a striking moving image almost at the end of this most compelling and theatrical work when choreographer/dancer Rachid Ouramdane stands on the diagonal facing a screen containing a shadowy reflection of himself. His own body is splintered with light patterns – chaotic swirls or prison bar stripes – and as his body reacts, undulating or gyrating to the staccato bursts of colour which illuminate him, he moves slowly towards the figure on the screen. They meld together, he and this alter ego, this unconscious other half he has been seeking to complete his identity.

The starting point for this thoughtful journey, which we take with this quietly magnetic performer and his skilfully managed multimedia partners, is the story of his own father’s torture and imprisonment during the Algerian war, shared with us through his mother’s moving testimony on screen. The painful memories this evokes for her are then embraced in mind and body by her son in a quest to find out who he is, to be able finally to recognise and know his own face, which he keeps covered for most of the performance And, also, to understand how the memory of violence, the trauma of war, the displacement and separation, reverberates into his own received unconscious to reveal the truth about his dual identity as French and Algerian.

He maps this journey into no man’s land by placing private stories against the public context. We watch him as a crouched figure, in jeans and hoodie, slowly rising and unbending, creating territorial outlines (“the absurd borders mapped by war”) with a microphone lead.

The stage is set with large megaphones, but he uses the small mike to speak or even sing directly to us (including No More Heroes, by The Stranglers – “Whatever happened to . . . Leon Trotsky”) . He traces his father’s past to Indochina, where his fa ther also fought in those years leading to the Vietnam War. But this is no solitary introspection, for he makes the connections: the displacement caused by war, and the post-colonial cultural confusion whereby an Asian-American boy feels that Bruce Lee has more resonance than Batman but is still, sadly, unable to lay claim to his Vietnamese identity.

A dance festival gem. SEONA MAC RÉAMOINN

Dublin Dance Festival runs until Saturday; dublindance