This review was originally published on Reviews Hub.
It’s a fairytale, but not as we know it. Based on the hugely popular 2001 DreamWorks film, Shrek the Musical is a larger-than-life comedy spectacle which, amidst the fun and flatulence, challenges preconceived ideals of beauty and goodness – while thoroughly entertaining an audience of all ages at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre.
Shrek is a reclusive, grumpy ogre, living a quiet life in the swamp until it’s inundated with fairytale folk, banished from the city of Duloc by the malicious Lord Farquaad. Desperate to reclaim his land, he strikes a deal with Farquaad – in return for his solitude, Shrek must rescue Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower so Farquaad can make her his bride. The gentle green giant embarks on a dangerous adventure which leads him to wonder if his self-imposed isolation really makes him happy.
Following successful runs in the West End and a UK tour in 2015, the show feels as energetic, fresh and funny as ever. If anything, the quality has been amped up a few notches. Under the leadership of returning director Nigel Harman, everything from the costumes and prosthetics to the multiple, elaborate sets and special effects looks and feels slicker and punchier – this is an impressive, big-budget production.
The big production is carried skilfully on the even bigger shoulders of the lead, Steffan Harri as the grouchy, lovable ogre. Despite his cumbersome costume and facial prosthetics, his portrayal of the charming character shines through and vocally he is pitch perfect. Marcus Ayton plays his comedy sidekick Donkey, easily filling Eddie Murphy’s large shoes from the film version. He’s brilliantly sassy and energetic.
Princess Fiona isn’t your average whimsical fairytale princess – she’s feisty, determined and by her own admission, a little bipolar after being locked in a tower for 20 years. Laura Main, best known as Call the Midwife’s Shelagh Turner, is a fabulous actress, showing her comedic versatility and a great voice. It’s a shame her character’s opening number, I Know It’s Today, has been scaled back, from a moving three-part harmony between the princess as a child, teen and adult to a silly puppet skit. As mentioned, overall the production values have increased, so it’s a bit disappointing.
It’s Samuel Holmes as Lord Farquaad who gets the biggest laughs of the night. Sporting short prosthetic legs, he spends the show scuttling around on his knees as the vertically challenged tyrant. The Ballad of Farquaad is very funny, as are his facial expressions and Carry On-esque cavorting.
The score is witty and upbeat, albeit not particularly memorable. Big Bright Beautiful World, Freak Flag and Shrek and Fiona’s duet I Think I Got You Beat are enjoyable, charismatic numbers.
The show sets a rapid pace and doesn’t let up – one minute Shrek and Princess Fiona are partaking in a gloriously gross farting competition and the next,the merry band of fairytale misfits is staging a revolt and the Pied Piper’s rats are doing a jazzy tap dance.
There are many highlights in this polished production and great performances across the board. It’s a real family show, laugh-out-loud funny on many levels, while at its heart carrying an important message – that it’s ok to be different. The epitome of a musical comedy, Shrek is clever, funny and heart-warming.
Runs until 25 February 2018 and on tour | Image: Helen Maybanks