Shrek The Musical

Dec 15 2017 | By More

★★★☆☆     Breezy

Edinburgh Playhouse: Tue 12 Dec – Sun 7 Jan 2018
Review by Hugh Simpson

Big, bright and brash, there are plenty of laughs in the new touring production of Shrek the Musical, which is debuting at the Playhouse until the first week of the new year.

The resulting show gains enough traction to convince as a continuing hit, even if it does not forge an identity of its own.

Laura Main and Steffan Harri in Shrek The Musical. Pic: Helen Maybanks

The original source for the show is, of course, the 2001 Dreamworks movie (which took its inspiration from William Steig’s book).

The story of an ogre, who is big, ugly, fierce, green and Scottish (but ultimately just misunderstood), sent to rescue an imprisoned princess with the aid of his ‘noble steed’, a fast-talking donkey, was a surprisingly huge success.

That first cinematic outing is smart, funny and involving. It has great fun at the expense of the tropes of fairy tales and Disney movies, and is stuffed full of jokes and witty pop culture references. Unfortunately, it has since spawned a franchise, with seemingly never-ending sequels and spin-offs that are the very definition of diminishing returns.

David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori’s 2008 musical avoids much of this by going back to the first film, with the storyline replicating it closely and most of the best lines being word-for-word lifts from the screenplay.

the occasional whiff of cynicism

This means that fans of the movie will be well satisfied, but does have the effect of making the whole project seeming less than necessary, and even gives it the occasional whiff of cynicism that is entirely at odds with the story.

The Cast Of Shrek The Musical. Pic: Helen Maybanks

The source made clever use of existing pop songs to pep up the narrative; here, the musical numbers break it up, and are not always designed to hold the attention of those younger audience members who are surely a huge part of the target audience. The surprisingly subtle ruminations on prejudice from the movie become more overblown.

There is also the unavoidable fact that the songs themselves are largely unremarkable. The throwaway references of the movie are replaced here by nods to various other musicals, which are a little on the self-congratulatory side.

The fact that I’m A Believer was drafted in to the stage show as a finale at an early stage in the musical’s existence seems to signal a desire to include at least one memorable number.

Otherwise, the one song that has gained any kind of fame has to be Who I’d Be, the climax of the first half. This is performed here with skill and emotion by three of the principals – Steffan Harri’s likeable and comic Shrek, Laura Main’s bright and breezy Princess Fiona and Marcus Ayton’s expansive Donkey.

theatrical magic

The presentation of these characters on stage does encapsulate the problems of providing something that is more than a tribute to the movie. It is much easier to portray a huge green ogre and a talking donkey in animation than it is on stage, and they never seem to become much more than people dressed in funny costumes.

Marcus Ayton in Shrek The Musical Pic: Helen Maybanks

There is more theatrical magic about the puppet dragon (given huge voice by Lucinda Shaw). Similarly, the portrayal of the villainous, diminutive Lord Farquaad works so beautifully because it is so self-consciously and unashamedly theatrical. Samuel Holmes uses the time-honoured pantomime device of shuffling around on his knees with false legs strapped to him; he milks this for all he is worth, and often threatens to steal the show with his enviable command of comedy timing.

It should be pointed out that the urban myth about the supposedly rude pronunciation of Farquaad’s name does very much come true on a couple of occasions here. This is one of the things that tips the balance towards more adult jokes, such as one or two lame topical remarks; there are, of course, plenty of burps and farts to keep everyone amused.

The sparkle that would set this production apart is largely missing. Later in the tour, particularly on a grey spring evening, its relentless energy and impressive staging will probably seem much more attractive. Competing against a whole host of other shows at Christmas it seems less necessary.

Most striking are the efforts of a 14-strong ensemble, who throw themselves into a variety of characters and routines, backed by an indefatigable (if somewhat slimmed-down) orchestra. Nigel Harman’s direction maintains the almost breathless feel, with a pleasing supply of sight gags, aided by Tim Hatley’s primary-coloured design.

Viewed as an adjunct to the whole franchise, this is an enjoyable romp that will please any fans of the big green man. Agnostics might find it less involving, but this is very much the case with so many film-derived stage musicals.

Running time: Two hours and 25 minutes (including one interval).
Edinburgh Playhouse, 18 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA.
Tuesday 12 December 2017 – Sunday 7 January 2018
Evenings Tue – Sat: 7pm; Matinees Sats, Thurs 21& 28, Wed 27: 2pm; Sun: 1pm (not 31), 5pm (not 24, 31)
Tickets and details:

Tour website:
Twitter: @ShrekUKTour.
Facebook: @ShrekUKTour.


Shrek the Musical on tour:
Tue 12 Dec 2017 – Sun 7 Jan 2018 Edinburgh
0844 871 3014 Book online
Tue 16 – Sun 28 Jan 2018 Manchester
Palace Theatre
0844 871 3019 Book online
Wed 31 Jan – Sun 11 Feb 2018 Sunderland
Sunderland Empire
0844 871 3022 Book online
Wed 14 – Sun 25 Feb 2018 Birmingham
The New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011 Book online
Wed 28 Feb 2018 – Sun 11 Mar 2018 Aberdeen
His Majesty’s Theatre
01224 641122 Book online
Wed 14 – Sun 25 Mar 2018 Northampton
Royal & Derngate
01604 624 811 Book online
Wed 28 Mar – Sun 8 Apr 2018 Sheffield
Lyceum Theatre
0114 249 6000 Book online
Tue 10 – Sun 22 Apr 2018 Cardiff
Wales Millennium Centre
029 2063 6464 Book online
Wed 2 – Sun 13 May 2018 Stoke-on-Trent
Regent Theatre
0844 871 7649 Book online
Tue 15 – Sun 27 May 2018 Blackpool
Winter Gardens
0844 856 1111 Book online
Wed 30 May – Sun 10 Jun 2018 Woking
New Victoria
0844 871 7645 Book online
Tue 12 – Sun 24 Jun 2018 Liverpool
08448 713 017 Book online
Wed 27 – Sun 8 Jul 2018 Norwich
Theatre Royal
01603 63 00 00 Book online
Wed 11 – Sun 22 Jul 2018 Canterbury
The Marlowe Theatre
01227 787787 Book online
Wed 25 Jul – Sun 5 Aug 2018 Milton Keynes
Milton Keynes Theatre
08448 717652 Book online
Wed 8 – Sun 19 Aug 2018 Bristol
0844 871 3012 Book online
Tue 21 Aug – Sun 2 Sep 2018 Llandudno
Venue Cymru
01492 872000 Book online
Tue 11 – Sun 23 Sep 2018 Nottingham
Theatre Royal
0115 989 5555 Book online
Tue 25 Sept – Sat 6 Oct Glasgow
King’s Theatre
0844 871 7648 Book online
Tue 9 – Sun 21 Oct 2018 Belfast
Grand Opera House
02890 241919 Book online
Tue 23 Oct – Sun 4 Nov 2018 Dublin
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377 Book online
Tue 13 – Sat 24 Nov 2018 Plymouth
Theatre Royal
01752 230440 Book online
Tue 27 Nov – Sat 8 Dec 2018 Southampton
The Mayflower Theatre
02380 711811 Book online
Tue 18 Dec 2018 – Sun 6 Jan 2019 Leeds
Grand Theatre
0844 848 2700 Book online

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