Musical theatre can go one of two ways as far as I’m concerned – painfully panto or utterly spectacular. Nigel Harman’s production is monstrously fun and about as Shrektacular as you can get.
To use Shrek’s analogy, the show has layers. It brings together the fairy tale characters and the most memorable quotes from the film, whilst developing the character’s backstories with catchy songs. As well as flatulent humour, the production is packed with jokes for adults, which the children laugh along with too, although they probably don’t know why.
The set and costumes are swamped with details, from Pinocchio’s extendable nose to the three little pigs’ handbags made of straw, wood and brick. One character even waves a placard reading, ‘Make Wishes Not War’, beneath a green moon. Considering the original film was animated, it is a pleasant surprise to find the production avoids using CGI wherever possible. Instead, the gingerbread man and the dragon are portrayed using puppetry to brilliant effect.
Harri’s Farquaad is delectably evil, lunging and thrusting his way through each scene. Who knew it was possible for someone to stroke their own thighs so much? Idriss Kargbo is fabul-ass; possibly the campest donkey ever to mince across the boards, which is saying a lot.
Chisnall is fartastic as Shrek, showcasing an extraordinary vocal range, and Brookes is well-cast as the somewhat manic Fiona. Unfortunately the two characters aren’t as grumpy or feisty as the original screen versions were. At one point in the musical Shrek fantasises about being a mainstream hero or even a poet. That’s not the ogre audiences know and love. The only other issue with the show is Fiona’s gratuitous tap dance scene. In sparkly green hot-pants. With a bunch of 6ft rats. Um, why?
The rest of the musical numbers are fun, catchy and well-choreographed. You’ll leave the theatre humming either ‘Big Bright Beautiful World’, ‘I Think I Got You Beat’ or the disturbingly zany ‘What’s Up, Duloc?’ (where the characters cry, ‘Conform us!’). And of course, it wouldn’t be Shrek without the requisite closing rendition of ‘I’m a Believer’.
Packed with fairy tale references, stunning costumes and catchy tunes, each layer of this production is more spectacular than the one before. Or should I say Shrektacular?
- Based on the cartoons of William Steig and the DreamWorks animated film
- Directed by Nigel Harman
- Music: Jeanine Tesori & Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
- Set and costume designer: Tim Hatley
- Cast includes: Dean Chisnall, Faye Brookes, Idriss Kargbo and Steffan Harri
- The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury
- Until 1st March 2015 (on UK tour)
- Review by S. A. McCracken
- 13 February 2015