If you can’t wait for the start of pantomime season, then I would highly recommend a visit to see Shrek: The Musical. We may not be getting a happy ending to a summer of high temperatures and searing heat. But the return of rain is perhaps the perfect magical ingredient to tempt you indoors for this happily-ever-after love story. It features a colourful cast of fairytale characters who are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
The show begins in true fairytale style: a giant book opens up to tell the backstory of our green ogre protagonist, Shrek. As the narrator brings us up to the present day, we find Shrek happy in his solitary existence, living beside his beloved swamp. But his peaceful life is interrupted when a bunch of fairytale creatures is banished to his home by the comically-evil Lord Farquaad. In an attempt to win back his privacy, he agrees to rescue the Princess Fiona for Farquaad, with a little help from his comic sidekick Donkey. But his quest does not quite turn out as he expects.
This adaptation of the animated film is a joy to behold. Designer Tim Hatley has created a truly magical experience. The costumes and puppets transport you right into the heart of its wonderful world. They are visually arresting and simply awe-inspiring. It is the level of detail that is most striking. The character of Pinocchio (Joseph Dockree), in particular, is portrayed beautifully as the wooden boy. Dockree displays arms and legs that are furnished precisely to look like wood, grains and knots included. Meanwhile, the dragon may as well have broken through the cinema screen such is the likeness to her animated equivalent. Not since War Horse has a piece of onstage puppetry fascinated me so much. Its movement was sublime and utterly seamless. Even the additional detail of flickering eyes struck me as being wonderfully inventive. The whole thing was breathtakingly stylistic and magnificent in scope.
The prosthetics that transform Steffan Harri into the ogre are superbly done; the continual transformation of Amelia Lily (Princess Fiona) between white-skinned human and green, bulging ogre, even more so. From the humorous sight of Samuel Holmes scrambling around on his knees as he portrays the small stature of Lord Farquaad, to the playfulness of Marcus Ayton’s actions as Donkey, there is very little at fault when it comes to the visual spectacle of Shrek: The Musical. Where there is room for improvement, I would say, especially in the first half, is in the dialogue. For fans of the film, the well-known quotes from the original screenplay can all be found in the script of David Lindsay-Abaire. The problem is, taken out of their original animated context, some of them simply don’t have the same effect in this live-action adaptation. They may raise a smile at their familiarity. But they tend to fall flat when it comes to their comical intentions. Surrounded by more, and better, original songs after the interval, the dialogue improves. It feels more at ease with its musical context, more flexible and inventive than the rather mechanical dialogue of the first act.
Overall, Shrek: The Musical is a feast of fun. It resembles a high-budget pantomime at times, but this is no criticism. Holmes is the perfect pantomime dame in the guise of Lord Farquaad. Shouts from the audience now and again cause the actors to lose their nerve or respond with some humorous aside. This only makes for a more enjoyable show. It takes nothing away from a production that is packed with the most incredible visual effects and the most irresistible costumes. The rain may have dampened the end of summer, but Shrek: The Musical will help to keep the sunshine in the memory just that little bit longer, whatever your age.
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Originally written as part of the Young Critics North Wales scheme.
Featured Image (C) Venue Cymru