Shrek trio

The donkey, Shrek, in his safety helmet and Princess Fiona

Shrek – The Musical

The Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham


Some shows are just warm, satisfying, fun - theatre’s equivalent of a comfort blanket – and Shrek is a bright green version, with a hint . . . no, let’s be honest, with a veritable fanfare of flatulence.

The loveable ogre started life in a children’s book back in 1990, took his 11 plus and was awarded a place in a hit film in 2001 and came of age at 18 with a stage musical in 2008.

This latest tour bursts with fun and life from the off with the opening very funny scene - just listen to the words - as little Shrek, aged seven, not so much leaves as is chucked out of the nest - tough love or what.

Chased by villagers with pitchforks and stuff, Shrek and his dubious personal hygiene, escape and set up home adding to the ambiance of an already fetid swamp where no sane creature would go.

That is until all the fairytale characters are banished there by order of Lord Farquaad, the diminutive ruler of the land, ruler perhaps being an unfortunate term for someone so short, but we will let that pass.

Which sets Shrek off to have words with his Lordship about the squatters that have been dumped on him. He picks up a talking donkey along the way and then ends up rescuing a princess locked in a tower guarded by a dragon on sticks, and finally leads the cast in singing a Monkees hit from 1966!

Course, there is a bit more to it than that, but that’s the gist of it. Star of the show, as far as my grandchildren aged 12 (almost 13) and eight were concerned, was the donkey, played by Brandon Lee Sears, who we last saw as Jimmy Early in the wonderful Dreamgirls at the Alex. He makes the part his own with wonderful quips and timing, telling looks at the audience, and despite large amounts of donkey bum padding, produces a remarkably athletic performance.


Princess Fiona stepping out with the tap dancing rats

He is matched by Antony Lawrence in the title role, in even more padding. Ogres are not nature’s first choice as romantic leads, unless you are also an ogre I suppose, but Lawrence does a good job of not only getting the audience on side, but actually making them feel for him when his life starts to fall apart.

The falling apart being around Princess Fiona, played with suitable spirit by Joanne Clifton, who sports a voice that rivals angels in song and could smash anvils in anger. A lovely, feisty performance.

She also manages a sort of fart along flatulence duet with Shrek – you can never go wrong with kids if you introduce a good old bum cough section, they love it, along with reference to anything smelly, pooy, phlobby, globby or gruesome – the average ogre diet for example.

The baddy in all this is his lordship, Farquaad, whose claim to the throne, which he would probably struggle to climb up on to in any case, is somewhat dubious, but who are we to question the line of succession in Duloc – the place he rules.

Among our leads come a whole host of fairy tale outcasts with Mark D’arcy a standout as Pinocchio, and who could forget Scotty Armstrong as the big bad . . . cross dressing (?) . . . wolf.

Then there was Cherece Richards, who gave a hint of having a voice and a half as the Wicked Witch but really had the rafters shaking as she hit the stage as the sparkly pink dragon.

The ensemble cast were simple brilliant, creating a cast of thousands from fairy tale favourites to guards, torturers to archbishops, prisoners to pitchfork wielding villagers, tap dancing rats . . . don’t ask . . . to a chained, imprisoned backing group. They also did the puppeteering as well in their spare moments.

As a musical Shrek doesn’t produce any standards, it can’t sport a show stopper, but that is not to say the music from Jeanine Tesori and lyrics from David Lindsay-Abaire, who also wrote the book, is dull, there are some fine songs in there and songs which move the story along with Shrek’s Who I’d Be a highlight along his bittersweet When Words Fail and  the clever trio I know it’s today from Fiona through the ages with Natasha Cayabyab appearing as the young Fiona and Bethany Kate as the teen princess with Joanne Clifton then appearing as the adult.

The songs are all enhanced by an excellent seven piece orchestra under musical director Richard Atkinson while in ensemble pieces hats off to choreographer, and co-director Nick Winston who made every sequence not just interesting but fun, especially the rather camp guards and the Ziegfeld Follies style tap dancing rats.

Philip Witcomb’s set is a masterclass in complex simplicity with drops from the flies and video from Nina Dunn for Pixellux creating swamps, forests, castles, dungeons and whatever needed in seconds with no break in action.

Winston, and fellow director Samuel Holmes have created a wonderful evening of non-stop entertainment for the entire family; at its heart it is a gentle love story, without going all sentimental, with a simple message of acceptance. It's pure escapism to send you home with an industrial size helping of feel good factor, which, strangely, comes with a strange, green haze, and I'm a believer playing in your head for the next couple of days. To 14-04-24.

Roger Clarke


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