Born from the much liked Mike Myers film, Shrek the Musical is a funny, silly, generous show that removes the subtly of the movie to place it firmly in this theatrical setting with over the top campery amidst a simple, heartwarming story with kind-hearted characters and a message that we’re all guilty of some kind of prejudice.
Once upon a time, seven-year-old ogre Shrek is sent away from home to fend for himself, where he contents himself with an isolated life in his beloved swamp, free to flatulate and do as he pleases with nobody to disturb him. However, secluded bliss is shattered when a hoard of fairytale creatures descend on his land, displaced on the order of Lord Farquaad from his sizeable Kingdom.
Shrek takes off to challenge his lordship, meeting a talking Donkey on the way who’s determined to tag along, and Lord Farquaad charges the ogre with rescuing Princess Fiona from her dragon protected tower, so he can marry her and finally be King, promising to give Shrek’s swamp back.. Shrek obliges and takes a trip, with his annoyingly friendly ass in tow, to discover an adventure that opens his world and makes everyone question what exactly a happy ever after looks like.
This touring ensemble have settled comfortably into this show and are clearly still having a ball performing it, with high energy delivery amidst smooth transitions as practical props are kept to a minimum favouring projections of scenescapes outlined by a curving arch allowing you to step into this surreal storybook.
Antony Lawrence is a likeable and ever present Shrek, albeit with a muddled Scottish brogue, whose warmth and wit increases as his character unfurls, and his big number - and best musical number of the show - Who I’d Be is understated and vulnerable. Joanne Clifton’s Princess Fiona is unapologetically crass and relatable as she flails about trying to project what she thinks she should be, instead of her goofy self. The pair manage to create an enticing chemistry, with the biggest reaction of the evening going to their exuberant farting session. And bringing up the central trio is Brandon Lee Sears as Donkey, who manages to embrace the silliness with some wonderful physicality amidst sassy line delivery and snigger-inducing side eye.
James Gillian brings a smugly incompetent Lord Farquaad to life, who minces, shimmies and sulks in equal measure, his singular vision the centre of his selfish desires and delivered with tongue in cheek assuredness that you will like him because he’s more just an annoying manchild than evil incarnate. And this is the first production this reviewer has seen where the character is not delivered on their knees… which could be considered PC, correct or just a choice. Regardless, it doesn’t ruin the spectacle or indeed distract from it by pulling focus, as sometimes quotes in previous incarnations.
Ensuring we traverse the tale in entertaining fashion, the array of fairytale characters we meet will no doubt include everyone’s favourite and there’s some wonderful moments from individuals, with mentions for Cherece Richards who brings the house down with Dragon’s fiery number along with Georgie Buckland as Gingy, who’s Elfin frame houses all the octaves as she delivers significant runs which lead to appreciated cheers from the audience.
This is a great night out to just relax, escape into a world of fart gags, musical theatre references, colour and fun. The all ages audience were slightly subdued to begin but soon warmed up when they embraced the grandiose action of this anti-fairytale, but which still has a classic fairytale ending, at which point young and old alike were on their feet for a rapturous finale ensuring everyone would be a believer.
Shrek the Musical is at the Playhouse until Sat 27 January.
© Lindsay Corr, January 2024