Recreating the cherished film for the stage, this musical tells the twisted fairytale story of an ogre, Shrek, and his trusty sidekick Donkey, on a mission to reclaim ownership of his swamp by rescuing a princess from a tower and bringing her to the nasty Lord Farqaad (who has sent all the 'freak' fairytale characters to live in the swamp, away from his Kingdom). With a smattering of well-known characters appearing along the way, Shrek rescues the princess only to discover that he yearns for more than just his swamp after all, and everyone learns to embrace the sides of them deemed unworthy by the outside world. 


This production certainly gears itself towards a younger audience, unnecessarily so at times, and its pantomime-esque humour is rife with burps and farts galore – all met with delighted giggles from the audience and executed very effectively, albeit not quite to the taste of this particular reviewer, though fully expected! The rest of David Lindsay-Abaire's script's comedy requires better pacing to reach its potential – pauses are few and far between, and some witty moments are lost as a result, amplified by a general need for better diction through some fast-moving songs.  

Theatre show reviewers selling Theatre show reviews and Theatre show reviewers


While you probably do need to be familiar with the original film to follow this plot with ease (due to rushed dialogue and a few sudden and unclear scene transitions), fans will not be disappointed with the key scenes and references included – the iconic “do you know the Muffin Man” scene is replicated wonderfully, easter eggs of Shrek sequels are littered throughout, and quotes we know and love find their way into the script – “that'll do, Donkey, that'll do” is cleverly tied into the end of a song. We are also delighted by the iconic “I'm a Believer” number at the close of the show that has the audience on their feet joining in with the high-energy display. 


Philip Witcomb's set is engaging, enhanced by projections (occasionally out of focus) which also serve to transition us between scenes in panto-style journey sequences. Witcomb's costumes are exquisite and truly capture the magic of a story such as this, the obvious stand-out being that of Pinocchio's beautiful costume with Craig Forrest-Thomas' stunning makeup for the wooden boy.  


In a show about seeing beyond one's appearance, the importance of inner beauty, and embracing those differences that set us apart from ‘the norm', we have to question the necessity of a number of jibes made towards larger bodies. Notably, Shrek practices a confession of love to Fiona where he stumbles over his words, describing her as ‘big' before clarifying, “obviously you're not fat” as if this would of course be a terrible insult, then going on to “blame” his “gene pool” for his own larger size. A line in a song from Donkey joking about “a fat kid on cake” was an especially unsettling simile played for laughs to a room filled with impressionable children.  


Another possible missed opportunity in this space is that of not putting a plus-size performer in the role of Dragon, who is serenaded by Donkey with lyrics of “I like a big big girl”, championing the desirability of characters of all shapes and sizes. However, this is clearly about an actual dragon so doesn't read as insensitive; besides, it is difficult to argue with the casting of Cherece Richards who completely steals the show with her awe-inspiring performance – Richards' vocals bring the house down in an astonishing display of talent that would be challenging to rival!  


Speaking of exceptional vocal performances, Georgie Buckland not only gives an adorable and accurate Gingy impression but shows off her ridiculously impressive vocal range at every opportunity! Natasha Cayabyab delivers the sweetest portrayal of Young Fiona, complimented beautifully by Bethany Kate's Teen Fiona – they come together with Joanne Clifton's adult (though jarringly juvenile) Princess Fiona to deliver a beautifully harmonized “I Know It's Today”.  


While we long for a more loathsome Lord Farqaad, the comedic stylings of Brandon Lee Sears as Donkey are excellent in a delightfully camp portrayal of the beloved character, and Antony Lawrence captures the vulnerability and emotional side of Shrek in a beautifully touching performance. 


A lot of fun, especially for families, Shrek will be touring the UK until April next year, and is playing at the New Wimbledon Theatre until 30th September. 



Review: Penny Lane         Photo: Marc Brenner