Shrek the Musical

Jan 23 2024 | By More

★★★★☆    Fully rounded

Playhouse: Mon 22 – Sat 27 Jan 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin

Shrek the Musical’s return in a new production, with a new director and choreographer, is a case of more of the same in terms of plot and songs, but with vibrant new details and framing to their presentation.

It’s a shame, then, that the whole thing is so poorly wrapped up. The use of video projections for much of the scenery just detracts from the magic of live theatre. And when the cloth on which it is being projected moves, it makes the background go in and out of focus like the flight deck of Starship Enterprise.

The fairytale characters and Antony Lawrence as Shrek. Pic Marc Brenner

There’s no disputing that the company is very good indeed, however. Nor that Nick Winston’s new choreography, in particular, gives a pleasing lift to the whole piece. And if some of the best sight gags of previous tours are gone, this is still an official Dreamworks production, so much remains.

To certain extent Nina Dunn’s video design does free up the storytelling, notably at the start where co-directors Winston and Samuel Holmes skip through Shrek’s backstory – with just enough detail about being abandoned at the age of seven – to march right into Shrek’s swamp and the arrival of the fairytale characters, refugees from Lord Farquaad’ cleansing of Duloc.

Antony Lawrence is an imposing Shrek with a powerful voice to match, even if he is not always consistent with his accent. He brings a pleasing dynamic to the character’s arc, from the not-in-my-backyard attitude towards any interlopers, to ultimate acceptance of the characters and friendship with Donkey.

wide-eyed looning

Brandon Lee Sears is beautifully skittish as Donkey: all up-front physicality and wide-eyed looning when in the background. It’s another performance which goes beyond the cartoonish: Donkey carries Shrek’s emotional load (even if he can’t carry the big ogre himself), as they visit Duloc then set off to save Princess Fiona from her 23 year imprisonment in a Dragon-guarded tower.

Brandon Lee Sears, Antony Lawrence and Joanne Clifton. Pic Marc Brenner

Talking of Fiona, every best use is made of Joanne Clifton’s dance credentials in the role, particularly as she leads the rat chorus is a rousing tap routine. She’s not just a hoofer, either, with a decent pair of pipes and the ability to round out the character. You quite believe she has been living alone all those years.

That difference in the tap routine is one of the more noticeable changes in the new production. However the biggest – or maybe that should be the least diminutive – is the change in the presentation of Lord Farquaad, so he is no longer performed by an actor kneeling in their shoes in the time-honoured pantomime fashion.

memorable in all the right ways

It does mean that all the comic references to size and Farquaad over-compensating don’t quite work as well. But it does allow for James Gillan to really let rip with all his musical theatre attributes in the role (and he has them in plenty), in numbers such as Welcome to Duloc and the like.

The other notable change is to bring the actor singing Dragon out onto the stage. The three-person puppet dragon is still there but Cherece Richards is memorable in all the right ways, singing the role in a skin-tight armoured costume. It’s a great way to make your professional debut in a principal role.

Joanne Clifton leads the Rat Chorus, as Princess Fiona in Shrek. Pic: Marc Brenner.

All that singing and dancing demands a well-drilled ensemble. And Shrek’s has 16 members, all of whom bring their best moves to the stage and all playing at least three and as many as five, different roles.

Particularly memorable are Georgie Buckland as Ginny, whose singing voice just gets higher and higher and higher until you have to practically scrape it off the roof; Mark D’Arcy as a particularly opinionated Pinocchio; and the trio of Imogen Bailey, Remi Ferdinand and India Thornton who are vocally on point as the Three Blind Mice.

It’s all great fun – but it is also good to report that Shrek’s underlying messages of acceptance still ring out strongly. There is Fiona, of course, who has to accept herself for who she truly is, and Clifton does that superbly.


But the big resonance in these times of harrowing removal of people from their native lands, lies in the out-of-hand condemnation of Farquaad – perhaps easier to do now that he is less a figure of fun – and the acceptance that the fairytale folk can settle in the Shrek’s swamp, too.

Not that any of this is over-emphasised. It’s just there as a moral backbone to a story that is told with great clarity. So yes, that wrapping might be a tad dodgy, but this a fully rounded production that bounces along from one tasty treat to the next.

Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes (including one interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse 8 – 22 Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Mon 22 – Sat 27 January 2024
Mon – Sat: 7.30pm; Wed, Sat: 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

James Gillan as Lord Farquaad, and company. Pic Marc Brenner


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