If you haven’t seen the trilogy of films and spin-offs about the bad tempered ogre who falls for a princess, it really doesn’t matter because Shrek the Musical works brilliantly as a standalone show.
Having said that, the narrative does follow the film – the characters from the fairytale are banished to the swamp and Shrek is ordered to rescue the princess from her prison in the tower so Lord Farquaad can marry her and become king. Oh, and of course, Donkey’s here too.
I expected to see more children in the audience but successful kids films keep the adults entertained too, and the ‘grown up’ humour doesn’t disappoint. In fact, the humour translates well to the stage with the comic timing of Gerard Carey who plays the diminutive and power-hungry Lord Farquaad. A simple costume design (the actor kneels down which means his knees are the ‘feet’ to the short legs attached to him) allows Carey to steal the show with his outlandish mannerisms and, in keeping with the time of year, he works brilliantly as a panto villain; we belly-laughed and looked forward to his scenes.
And don’t worry about missing crucial elements of the film – the burping and farting gags are here, not least in a great scene featuring Shrek and Fiona being more than a little competitive in the gas stakes with the song I Think I Got You Beat.
The majority of the musical numbers work well including Welcome To Duloc (the only material from the film) and I Know It’s Today which represents the passage of time for the princess locked in the tower. However, call me a misery guts but it felt like the love songs were fillers compared to the ensemble pieces with the fairytale characters.
The costumes for the show mirror the film but some of the banished swamp dwellers such as the Three Little Pigs and the Three Blind Mice are sassy and the puppetry for Gingerbread Man and Dragon is simple but clever.
If you love musical theatre then you can play ‘spot the reference’. The Lion King and Les Mis are easy, and I thought I was being clever recognising a couple of notes from Wicked, but Rent, Fosse and more are there too if you know your stuff.
Of course, a good family show needs a good family finale and who doesn’t love singing along to I’m a Believer?
If you love fairytales then the moral of this story is “go and see Shrek”.
By Sara Hughes
To read Northern Soul’s interview with Nigel Harman, director of Shrek the Musical, click here.
What: Shrek the Musical
Where: Palace Theatre Manchester
When: until January 11, 2015