Shrek – The Musical performed at The Theatre Royal Nottingham on Thursday 11th September 2014.


Reviewer:    Sandra Cooper

Once upon a time musicals drew their inspiration from books, plays or even real life; but now they seem based upon animated movies. But although Shrek stems from the 2001 Dreamworks film, it is genuinely theatrical, very funny and generously spirited.

Starting with the obligatory request about switching off your mobile phones being followed by the threat that if you failed to do so, “Shrek will come out into the audience, find you and fart on you” marked the beginning of a production that had me laughing from start to finish.

It was to the production’s credit that the book by David Lindsay-Abaire was followed by the film without being slavishly tied to it. It allowed us to learn more about the background of the gigantic ogre, Shrek and the feisty Princess Fiona, whom he is sent to rescue from a dragon guarded tower. As the set opens up like the pages of a children’s storybook we learn that Shrek was sent into the world on his own at the tender age of seven, whilst Princess Fiona was also consigned by her parents to a life of perpetual solitude, locked in a tower until she is rescued.

Dean Chisnall as Shrek, makes such an immediate impression that the audience are completely in the palm of his hand throughout the entire show; with us willing him to get the better of the nasty Lord Farquaad, to get his swamp back and to find his true love. If you have seen the film, you will know with some relief that it all works out well in the end.

The musical retains the movie’s humour without even trying. Gazing at the soaring, perpendicular towers of Farquaad’s castle, Shrek enquires “Do you think he might be compensating for something?” which is extremely amusing given that Farquaad is vertically challenged, and when asked by an impatient Fiona if he has slain the fire breathing dragon, Shrek evasively replies, “It’s on my to-do list”. The whole show is full of double entendres laced with absurdist sarcasm.

The most inventive part of the show involves various characters from fairy tales being evicted from Farquaad’s land and seeking refuge with Shrek. This allows for numerous in jokes about the likes of Pinocchio (whose nose really does grow), the three little pigs, the three bears, a somewhat camp wolf from Little Red Riding Hood as well as Peter Pan, who is told to “grow up”, to which he replies “I’m trying too”. Due to the fantastic make-up and costumes, whenever this fine ensemble of actors came on to the stage, it was an absolute delight.

Gerard Carey, as Lord Farquaad, without doubt made the greatest impression. Despite his real legs being strapped behind him and hidden by a black curtain, he paradoxically runs off with the show. He plays him as a slightly camp version of Lord Olivier’s Richard III, at one point petulantly flicking his sable locks. He even manages to do a high kicking dance routine, whilst sitting down, with the aid of prop legs dashingly swathed in yellow tights. The love child of Snow White and Grumpy, he has a James Bond villain’s laugh and an inflated sense of his own sexual allure. At another point he even does a Jane Fonda workout, waggling his revolting little legs like two jumbo hot dogs. Simply outstanding!

It is hard to reconcile the fact that it was only five years ago that Idriss Kargbo, who plays Donkey, won a Stage/Sylvia Young Scholarship when he was just 13 years old. The maturity of his performance was particularly impressive, and for me he totally stole the show. He made an instant unforgettable impression and made the role of Donkey totally believable. Both Carey and Kargbo could have been born for their roles, stuffed with one liners, visual comedy and the ability to simply deliver a great line.

Chisnall brilliantly embodies both the fun and the charm of Shrek. With his two green trumpets for ears, a vast belly and a flatulence problem the equal of any Maharajah of Madras, we were instantly smitten. He managed to move us as he forlornly sung that it is ‘a big bright, beautiful world’, for everyone it seemed, except for him, but then make us laugh with his burps and farts. His innocence was absolutely endearing.

There was a convincing chemistry between Chisnall and Faye Brookes’s Princess Fiona. She added a quirky feistiness to the part and without doubt, proved her worth in the song and dance department too. She delivered a charming spring like ballad, Morning Person, and competitively engages with Shrek in I Think I Got You Beat, which has echoes of Irving Berlin’s Anything You Can Do, from Annie Get Your Gun. The difference here is that they are fighting not so much over high notes but low farts, which proved to be a real hit with the younger members of the audience.

Part of the real pleasure of this production lies in the wit of the staging by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, and the quality of the designs by Tim Hatley. There was a sly nod to 42nd Street with a chorus line of tap dancing rats, a lovely number from the Three Blind Mice and of course, a huge scaly dragon that was operated manually in War Horse style, and created such a presence that the audience were oblivious to the operators on stage.

With a rip roaring finale from ‘The Donkees’ which involved the whole cast on stage singing I’m A Believer, the show came to a close. The time had passed so quickly that it was hard to believe that with only a twenty minute interval, this show had enthralled us for two and a half hours.

This is a must see show and will appeal to the young, the old and even those in-between. I would gladly go now to see it again; such was the fun it was from start to finish.