Shrek the Musical

March 18, 2022 | By More

★★★☆☆     Swamptastic

King’s Theatre: Wed 16 – Sat 19 Mar 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

Just 904 days after its first rehearsal, the Bohemians Lyric Opera Company’s production of Shrek the Musical arrives on the King’s stage, battered by Covid in more ways than one, but brave and unbowed none-the-less.

The two year lockdown hiatus has forced cast changes and upset rehearsal spaces. But more to the point, the current rise in Covid cases has hit both the band (with several new members sight-reading their parts on opening night) and performers on the stage, with a couple of substitutes.

Andrew Gardiner (Shrek) and Rachael Anderson (Princess Fiona). Pic: Ric Brannan Photography

This is a company packed with believers, however, and whatever the world had to throw at them on opening night, it was always going to triumph over adversity.

Shrek the Musical is a funny, generous show. Maybe not quite as subtle as the original 2001 Shrek movie on which it is based, but still packed with sympathetic characters and some very overt digs at all kinds of prejudice.

Shrek is the big green and very grumpy ogre whose relative happiness in his corner of the swamp – well away from the haters and pitchfork-wielders – is spoiled by the arrival of a crowd of fairy tale characters, expelled by the diminutive Lord Farquaad from nearby Duloc.

down-to-earth

While this amateur production is very similar in look to the professional touring version – thanks to the off-the-shelf set, costumes and even make-up schemes – the Bohemians demonstrate just how much room there is for interpretation.

Andrew Gardiner is more of a Shrek than any big name touring star has achieved: Bluff, down-to-earth and completely unflappable, Gardiner makes the whole story fall out completely naturally, from Shrek’s early life, though the arrival of the fairy tale mob to his setting off to Duloc – intent on telling the Lord to Farquaad right off – and beyond.

Andrew Gardiner (Shrek) and Alex Singh (Donkey). Pic: Ric Brannan Photography

Then of course there is Donkey. Alex Singh has a ball, giving life to the motormouth, dancing Donkey who meets Shrek on his way to Duloc and immediately sees the benefit of having an Ogre as a pal. What ever problems there were with the sound on opening night, there was electricity in the air whenever Singh was on stage.

It’s a great double act, packed with all the usual ups and downs as the story develops. And, as a double act, Gardiner and Singh do it complete justice.

Shrek’s name is in the title but, as the good fairy says, it could just as well be called Princess Fiona. Rachael Anderson’s Princess has just enough edge and indignation for one who has been incarcerated alone in a tower for 8,423 days – and counting.

strength

Fiona’s I Know It’s Today, which transports her from first days in her lonely tower, via teenager to adult is very well done. Alice McAslan and Olivia McGowan set it up nicely for Anderson in the junior roles (Violet Beattie and Charlotte Dickson alternate), and show their strength when all three are singing together.

Violet Beattie (Young Fiona), Rachael Anderson (Princess Fiona) and Charlotte Dickson (Teenage Fiona). Pic Ric Brannan Photography.jpg

The Bohemians boast a couple of fine and powerful voices in the supporting roles. Dominic Lewis, on his knees as the hilarious Farquaad, has the best numbers and makes the most of them. Rebecca Drever provides a sumptuous voice for the dragon – a role which demands big vocal chops and which she delivers.

After a first half which jumps around from scene to scene, the second act is as smooth a sequence of musical theatre as you could want. For the leads, it provides some really special moments in the duets and trios between Shrek, Fiona and Donkey. Moments which all three performers rise to and allow Shrek and Fiona, in particular, to develop their characters as they fall in love (not that they know it).

depth

One of the reasons for any amateur company to want to stage Shrek is the depth of the roles for the whole company. They get to be fairytale characters, Dulok townspeople (and Farquaad’s army) and, at the top of the second act in the brilliant Morning Person, tap-dancing rats.

Obviously, such a demanding workload, also demands a very well drilled company who are as equally happy bringing individual characters to the fairytale mob as they are disappearing into the chorus when tap-dancing or singing Farquaad’s praises.

Dominic Lewis (Lord Farquuad. Pic Ric Brannan Photography

And what a brilliant job they make of it all. Ciara McBrien’s outraged Mama Bear, Choreographer Fiona Jackson’s fast stepping Pied Piper, young Finn Hunter’s OTT daddy dwarf, Louisa Everett, Laura Green and Monica Fowler as Donkey’s backing band of Three Blind Mice, and the great vocals from Kirsty Hogg and Ross MacPherson in the featured roles of Gingy and Pinocchio all stand out.

But in truth, whatever the quality of individual performances, this is an ensemble success, from Robert Nee’s direction and MD Finlay Turnbull’s marshalling of the pit, to the whole backstage company: the members of the Bohemians on sound, lighting, rigging, wardrobe and other technical roles.

Opening night might not have started as smoothly as anyone would have liked, but the issues just reminded us of what a team endeavour such a performance it.

This production of Shrek the Musical is a great night out – which feels like a homecoming – and one which, with all the fart gags and musical theatre references properly intact, will appeal to the most critical eyes of youngsters and musicals fans alike.

Running time: Two hours and 40 minutes
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ. Phone booking: 0131 529 6000.
Wednesday 16 – Saturday 19 March 2022
Evenings 7.30pm, Matinee Sat 2.30pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Company as fairy tale characters. Pic: Ric Brannan Photography

ENDS

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