The Time I Watched ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ In Prison28.01.13 # Review # No Comment
As a movie blogger it’s not often that you find yourself doing hard time in prison as a result of your activities (unless you live in North Korea) but that’s exactly what happened to this writer last week when I was put under lock and key as part of a Future Cinema production of The Shawshank Redemption.
For those who don’t know, Future Cinema is an entertainment company that offers a unique and immersive cinematic experience where props and actors are used to recreate the film that is being screened. Here’s what I went through -
After registering, I was given a new identity (Forest Stone) and told I had to be at Bethnal Green library in East London for “sentencing” at 18:50 sharp. Here, my fellow defendants and I were sat down by lawyer who explained to us that he was a bit useless and couldn’t do much for us but we’d probably be all right anyway. He was wrong about the latter; I was given 6 years for armed robbery by a foul-mouthed judge with an accent that made him sound like an extra from The Sopranos.
Next we were to be transported by a rather handsome prison bus to the place where I would call home for the remainder of my youth- or the night at least. On arrival, it soon became apparent just how much attention to detail had been put into creating this extraordinary experience. High fencing surrounded the courtyard of the imposing Old Cardinal Pole School, a building perfectly suited for imitating Shawshank Penitentiary.
Whilst being bullied and harangued by guards and inmates alike we were ushered to a sports hall, the bitter January chill exacerbating the rising sense of fear amongst us. Here we were given sacks containing prison clothing and told to strip down to our undergarments.
My invitation to the event had been last minute so I wasn’t dressed according to the dress code that had been advised in the registration email. 95% of the other guys in the room were wearing long johns beneath their trousers.
Should I go with the illusion or refuse? It was border-line at this point. Whilst wavering on a tightrope of indecision an attractive red-headed nurse approached me and asked sternly “What are YOU doing?” In the highly-strung state I was in it was more than I could take. Before I knew it my trousers were round my ankles and I was realising a recurring childhood nightmare at the ripe old age of 25. Even she seemed surprised by my commitment to the cause. At least I could take solace in the fact I hadn’t decided to put on my Spongebob Squarepants boxers that day.
Once me and my fellow convicts were dressed in the prison garb we were marched through the building to its core. Shoved into a cell, I found myself locked up with a young Ellis “Red” Redding. He told me he was a guy who could get things.
Lights flickered and failed and the screams of guards beating prisoners echoed through the impressive multi-tiered atrium- uncannily similar to the building in the film. At one point a bloodied convict was literally dragged by a guard in front of my cell. Throughout the whole experience it was chillingly impressive how well all the actors kept in character- mini-scenes constantly being enacted, sometimes for the benefit of only a handful of onlookers.
After being released from the cell it was time to head to the canteen. A sullen-looking cook slopped small portions of baked beans onto steel trays as we filed in. If you hadn’t paid an extra £20 for food and drink at the start of the evening the beans were all you were getting. The fact that this wasn’t included in the cost of the ticket was the only real disappointment of the experience as it meant half the people in the room were tucking into hotdogs and guzzling beers while the other half were left twiddling their thumbs.
Once half the people had filled up there was some free time before the screening. Various activities were set up around the building ranging from needle-work to working in the laundry. I made a pretty useless candle.
As for the film itself, it’s still the slick and absorbing emotional roller-coaster that it’s always been. Sure, there’s a cheesy sentimentality that prevents it from being as great as IMDB would have you believe, but anyone who doesn’t shake a fist in satisfaction when Andy Dufresne manages to both escape and bring down the dastardly prison warden in one ingenious fell swoop must be some sort of stone-hearted sociopath.
Watching it following the immersive intro that I have described certainly adds to the experience. For the first 20 minutes at least I almost felt like I was a part of the narrative. Also, there’s a nice little touch when Andy’s quick-thinking whilst he and his friends tar the roofs of Shawshank earns not only them free beers but also the audience.
Future Cinema presents The Shawshank Redemption runs until February 24th. I recommend you check out this truly immersive experience for yourself while you still can. You can buy tickets here.