If you’re looking for a feel good musical that’s pure smiles and an original score (barring ‘I’m a Believer’ of course) then this is the show for you.
I’ve seen other reviewers say it’s a little too panto but I think that’s okay for a show like this. It’s a fairy tale, essentially – a fairy tale for a modern generation - and since panto is all about the fairy tales too, I think this fits. So, if you hate panto then this isn’t the show for you!
It has the hero in Shrek himself, the ‘damsel in distress’ in Princess Fiona (who turns out to be nothing of the sort), the archetypical panto ‘baddie’ in Farquaad and the side kick in Donkey; All these being staple characters of the pantomime tradition.
As my first introduction into theatre was panto, I was more than happy to get lost in this magical and ridiculously silly world and reconnect with the child who first fell in love with theatre. From the moment the show began and the colourful story book set opened up I had a beaming smile on my face which stayed with me after the curtains fell.
My favourite character had to be Lord Farquaad played by Neil McDermott. Given that this is a role that requires shuffling around on his knees, it was always going to be hilarious. But it’s his facial expressions that really round off the ridiculousness of this character. Every expression is comically exaggerated aided by the absurdly drawn on eyebrows.
Carley Stenson as Princess Fiona was a surprise to me. Anyone who watched Hollyoaks in the last few years will know she played Steph – a character who was very much a wannabe performer who didn’t quite have the skills in singing, dancing or acting. So it came as quite a shock to witness her doing all three to a high standard – particularly the singing which she does beautifully. This can only be a testimony to what a versatile performer she is.
Dean Chisnall is quite a trooper as Shrek in that rather cumbersome get up – I feel hot just thinking about having to wear all that padding and make up under the lighting but Dean shows no sign of discomfort. He gives a strong and assured performance and is, naturally, the linchpin on which this production balances.
There was one cast member that I felt really let the otherwise strong team down. Richard Blackwood as Donkey. He managed to really capture Donkeys irritating side without adding any of the endearing qualities that Eddie Murphy manages to portray, through voice acting alone, in the films. He also couldn’t really grasp the accent and it ended up just sounding quite grating. I’d have really liked to have seen one of the understudies in this role, which, rather frustratingly, if I’d have gone on the Saturday would have happened.
I was very impressed with the costumes & make up – whether that be creating the wooden puppet look for the actor playing Pinocchio or simply painting on bright and sparkling make up on the witches and fairies.
One of my favourite scenic elements happens during a song that I’ve never been particularly fond of from the Original Broadway Cast Recording and that’s ‘The Travel Song’. The scene starts of simply with a rolling painted scene in a pastiche of ‘The Lion King’ behind a sign post in the centre of the stage. Towards the end of the song Shrek & Donkey stand in front of this signpost and it the platform splits and lifts, creating 2 pillars stage left and stage right with a rope bridge stretching between them. It’s still quite a technically simple achievement but it’s visually pleasing and works well.
My very favourite scenic element, though, has to be the dragon puppet. It’s a huge puppet that took four people to manoeuvre and control it. I was quite mesmerised by the lead puppeteer (who, it seems from the programme is the puppet himself – Pinocchio – played by Jonathan Stewart) who has to lead the dragon and control the mouth movement and the blinking. It must have taken some rehearsal to coordinate this scene.
Talking of the dragon’s scene – the song has been changed from the Broadway version. ‘Donkey Pot Pie’ is gone and a song called ‘Forever’ takes its place. ‘Forever’ is a much better song, in my opinion, showing off the singers range and skill. It was difficult to pick up the lyrics, however, as there seemed to be a general problem with sound levels with the orchestra often drowning out the singing.
There’s also been another change to the score – ‘Build a Wall’ has been cut completely which I was quite disappointed about as I like this song but they must have had their reasons and it isn’t really a song to move the story forward – it’s more about Shrek having a sulk.
I was really looking forward to seeing ‘Freak Flag’ being performed by all the fairy tale characters as this is my favourite song from the soundtrack and they all performed it perfectly. It was so energetic, powerful, bright and colourful. I do wonder if Pinocchio is ever tempted to replace ‘stand up to Farquuad’ with ... ... well I’m sure you can figure that out. If not, click here. I know that’s what I sing when I sing along in the shower.
I also have to mention a nice little touch before the show began. An announcement came over the tannoy in the voice of the Fairy Godmother. She said she has three wishes before the show can begin (1) no photography (2) turn of mobile phones and (this last one I loved) (3) please unwrap any noisy sweets before the show begins. I’ve never heard this asked at another show and yet it’s one of the main pet peeves of theatre goers. It was such a cleverly non-confrontational way of asking too, which given the nature of this show, could only be done at Shrek the Musical.
While this show may not completely blow you away, it’ll certainly leave you with a huge smile & a feeling of lightness (lightness from woes, hopefully, not gas - though maybe both if you decide to join in with the fart-off in ‘I Think I’ve Got You Beat’).
Shrek the Musical is currently at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Please visit the website http://www.shrekthemusical.co.uk/ for more information & to book tickets.