Image by Helen Maybanks
SHREK THE MUSICAL
Palace Theatre, Manchester
Until Sunday 28th January, 2018
Following a record-breaking nationwide tour back in 2014, Shrek The Musical‘s Olivier Award-winning alum, Nigel Harman’s, larger-than-life production is back on the road once again, yet for all its visual innovation and warmth, it is a production unfortunately hampered by unusual structural changes, pacing issues and unnecessary new pop culture references that simply don’t work.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s book remains very faithful to the beloved OSCAR-winning 2001 film, and retains large portions of the much quoted dialogue, but character attributes are altered and many of the early establishing scenes are heavily abridged or rushed, rendering some of the key relationships – notably the early hostility between the grumpy Shrek and the energetic Donkey – much less effective. Updates to the book include Fiona’s bizarre new puppet making obsession, and contemporary panto style references to the likes of Brexit and Bake Off, none of which work in the show’s favour. The numerous musical theatre references and parodies are however great fun for the keen eyed theatre buffs to keep an eye out for.
Despite pacing issues, Harman’s production is highly enjoyable, well staged and very slick when at its best, but it relies heavily on the audience’s expected knowledge of the film and characters to fill in many of the gaps and doesn’t quite capture the depth the animated feature achieves.
Steffan Harri leads the cast in fine style as the eponymous green ogre, demonstrating rock solid vocals and good comic timing. Harri’s Shrek may be far less gruff and grumpy than the version seen in the film, but his misunderstood, gentle-giant is nicely balanced and achieves a strong chemistry with Marcus Ayton’s Donkey and Laura Main’s Princess Fiona.
Samuel Holmes is however the standout as the hilarious and hugely charismatic Lord Farquaad and certainly makes the most of Shrek‘s delightfully camp villain. Performed (almost entirely) on his knees, Holmes’ expert comic timing and impressive vocal range is crucial to the role, and he uses Farquaad’s fake little legs to eye watering effect.
Alongside the principal quartet, the production’s versatile ensemble are excellent throughout, with notable standouts in Lucinda Shaw as the Dragon and Joseph Dockree as Pinocchio.
Jeanine Tesori and Lindsay-Abaire’s musical numbers are a mixed bag. The Act One closer, Who I’d Be, is a superb finale to the act, and The Ballad of Farquaad, When Words Fail and Big Bright Beautiful World are all cleverly crafted, but elsewhere the majority of numbers are bland fillers that do little to drive the story or enhance the piece.
Tesori’s orchestral score works well overall, but there is a good deal of silence in some of the gentler scenes, and they lack the underscoring that would add substance to the emotive dialogue.
Tim Hatley’s set and costume designs are perfectly rendered and prove identical to those seen in the film, though the set is of course scaled down for the touring production and makes frequent use of cheap looking cloths and curtains to cover scene changes. Duncan McLean does fine work with his projection designs, adding effective dimension to the staging.
Shrek The Musical may not be quite the monster hit it promises, but it’s a lot of fun, it’s undeniably charming and it retains that powerful, timely moral at its heart: that everyone is special, and being different never means you are wrong.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30-minutes (approx.), including one 20-minute interval.
Final Performance at the Palace Theatre, Manchester: Sunday 28th January, 2018
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