Shrek: The Musical far surpasses my expectations, leaping ahead of some of Theatreland’s most beloved musicals in my view.
I root for all the characters, from the delightfully gentle (and only ever-so-slightly grumpy) Shrek to all of the fairytale creatures banned from their home in Duloc. I even empathise with the villainous Lord Farquaad, whose on a mission to become king.
The plot is entertaining but not too complex, meaning it’s a show the whole family can enjoy. When Lord Farquaad, riddled with his own self-confidence complex, banishes all the ‘freaks’ and fairytale creatures to the swamp, Shrek is far from happy that his home has been infiltrated. Having endured a lifetime of rejection and abuse, the ugly ogre just wants to be left alone. He strikes a deal with Farquaad to rescue the mysterious Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded tower in return for the deeds to his swamp. With the help of a loveable and persistent donkey, Shrek completes his mission but gets more than he bargains for when he falls in love with the princess himself.
The cast are wonderfully suited to the piece, each extremely talented and all extremely likeable. Directed by Nigel Harman, who has starred in the show himself, the cast effortlessly bring the audience into this magical world without becoming pantomimic. Steffan Harri is just lovely as Shrek, creating a sad backstory that justifies his need to be left alone. he is ably assisted by Marcus Ayton as donkey as they journey to rescue the princess together. Laura Main plays Princess Fiona with over-the-top comedic effect but this works well for the show and somehow makes the romance between her and Shrek believable. The fairytale creatures are all adorable, particularly Joseph Dockree as Pinocchio.
Stealing the show is, of course, Samuel Holmes as Lord Farquaad. The delightfully horrid prince struts on stage with mighty swagger and he effortlessly handles his tricky costume – much to the hilarity of the audience. His comedic timing is perfect and his singing voice is exceptional.
The choreography is particularly impressive, particularly Lord Farquaad’s numbers as it milks his puppet legs for all they’re worth. Hats off to Josh Prince for the original choreography. I’m not normally a huge fan of big chorus numbers, but the clever choreography makes the stage leap to life.
The show’s set and costume design makes this show truly special, putting it on par (and, in my opinion, higher) than its comparative shows such as Wicked. Designer Tim Hatley creates a wonderfully colourful, fairytale land that looks just like an illustrated children’s book.
With a cracking set of numbers and a very happy ending, this show is an ideal festive production with plenty of heartwarming touches. Catch the show at Leeds Grand Theatre until 6th January 2019.
Photograph credited to Helen Maybanks