Shrek The Musical launches its national tour at the Leeds Grand Theatre this month. Adapted from Dreamworks’ 2001 animated movie and the novel by William Steig, it tells the tale of Shrek the ogre in search of his own princess bride.
Accompanied by a posse of classic fairy tale characters and a catalogue of musical numbers, can the stage version live up to the acclaim of its silver screen inspiration?
Shrek’s first British tour follows on from the critically acclaimed West End Production of 2013. The show starred Nigel Harman as the diminutive Lord Farquaad, and he returns as director of this touring version.
Ambitiously vast and technically complex, Shrek The Musical is clearly a demanding show to stage. The decision to place Harman in the director’s chair was no doubt in part due to his familiarity with the show’s complexities as a performer as well as director; as such his execution of this production is near faultless.
Aesthetically Shrek The Musical embraces its pantomime influences with numerous scene changes and colourful flats providing an ever-changing gallery of locations and spaces. Tim Hatley’s production design is superficially traditional in its physical staging, providing an almost hand-painted and airbrushed cartoon world on stage. The presentation is further enlivened with impressive projection effects and lighting, providing the fairytale landscape of Duloc in living depth and breadth.
With over two dozen musical numbers, Shrek rips along at a tremendous lick. Dramatic interludes are brief before segueing into dance and song, ensuring young members of the audience are constantly enchanted. The most memorable number, however, doesn’t arrive until the second act; Freak Flag is an uplifting and vast routine featuring the majority of the fairy tale creatures such as Peter Pan, Pinocchio and The Three Bears, in a deliciously cruel take on Les Miserables. Skilfully aware of its diverse audience, Shrek the Musical treads the fine line of “family entertainment”, brimming full of colourful numbers whilst peppering the show with enough caustic wit and satire to keep the adults firmly on board.
Shrek is played by Dean Chisnall in a bravura performance behind an impressive lime-green prosthetic. Bulky and booming, Chisnall creates a real-world Shrek on stage which is indistinguishable from his computer-animated alter ego. Powerful and emotive, his performance is captivating and surprisingly moving. He is accompanied by Idriss Kargbo as Donkey in a colourfully camp take on Eddie Murphy’s origination, proving vastly popular with the younger audience.
Faye Brookes delivers a beautifully lilting performance as Princess Fiona, showcasing impressive vocals throughout. Stealing all the scenes, however, is Gerard Carey’s Lord Farquaad, the pint-sized petty tyrant with all the verbose vocal richness of Brian Blessed. Several of the gags employed to achieve his diminutive scale are painfully hilarious, and no doubt painful for Carey to perform. His performance is undoubtedly a memorable highlight, which accounts for his expanded role in the stage version compared to the Dreamworks film.
Technical artistry floods the production, with impressive effects such as Pinocchio’s growing nose and a talking Gingerbread Man all adding to the magic. The jewel in the crown, however, is the realisation of a full-sized dragon articulated by several players. Complete with flapping wings, glowing eyes and twisting tail, this creature is of impressive scale and living dexterity. It will stun children and adults alike.
Shrek The Musical succeeds admirably in its own right as a musical which is rich with music, visual spectacle and superlative performance. An uplifting show with universal appeal and enduring themes, it is an unmissable fairytale extravaganza of gigantic proportions.
Shrek The Musical is at The Grand Theatre Leeds until 17th August. To book tickets contact the box office on 0844 848 2700 or visit leedsgrandtheatre.com. The production then transfers to the Bristol Hippodrome on 19th August. To book tickets contact the box office on 0844 871 3012.