If you’d asked me before this week, I’d probably have struggled to think of something less necessary than a musical adaptation of a 2001 Dreamworks CGI feature about a giant green ogre with a dubious Scottish accent. But there’s something about a night at the theatre surrounded by spellbound kids, shrieking with laughter as their favourite off the telly gets into a farting competition with a red-headed princess that makes a believer out of us all.
The Scottish accent is no less dubious in the touring production of Shrek The Musical, on at Glasgow’s King’s Theatre until 6th October – no shade intended to leading man Steffan Harri, who brings a sweetness it’s hard to fault to the titular ogre. The laughs, however, remain plentiful, even if few of the songs are as memorable as the Monkees cover that closes out the show (and, let’s be honest, that would have taken some doing).
The show follows pretty much the same plot – and, in large part, script – as the film. Sent out into the world by his parents at the age of seven with nothing but a warning to “watch out for men with pitchforks”, young Shrek is perfectly happy keeping himself to himself in his swampy home – until an army of fairytale creatures, banished from the local town of Duloc by the vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad, show up in the neighbourhood. With the promise that his solitude will be restored, and the unwelcome help of a wise-cracking donkey sidekick, Shrek sets off on a quest to rescue Farquaad’s intended Princess Fiona from a dragon-guarded castle – and along the way discovers acceptance, friendship and the importance of being true to yourself – as well as Fiona’s secret double life (is it a spoiler, by this stage? I guess I’ll treat it like a spoiler in case you, like me, had forgotten the plot of the film).
With larger than life characters as standard, the fairytale company – including a cross-dressing Big Bag Wolf, sassy Wicked Witch, beautifully-realised Pinocchio, complete with growing nose, and barbershop trio of Little Pigs – are made for the stage. They also get the best original song of the lot, in alternative empowerment anthem “Freak Flag”.
Amid an incredibly strong – and surprisingly small – company, though, some performances stand out. X Factor finalist Amelia Lily is unsurprisingly in fine voice in her role as Princess Fiona, but it’s her impeccable comic timing – most obvious when she duets with herself as a row of stuffed princess puppets on “I Know It’s Today” – that is the real revelation (although it’s a shame about the “bipolar” joke). And Marcus Ayton’s Donkey is soulful of voice, hilarious of movement, whether on four legs or two.
Lord Farquaad gets given an increased role and back story over the film, and Samuel Holmes is easily the show’s MVP, camping it up while forced to spend much of the running time hobbling around on knee pads. A reviewer for a national publication, commenting on a earlier run, remarked that the visual gag surrounding the diminutive Farquaad wears thin after about ten minutes, to which I can only say: NO. NO IT DOES NOT. The show’s other star? Jennifer Tierney, giving it the full Dreamgirls treatment as the voice of Dragon: I’m not sure from where she was projecting as a four-strong team of puppeteers swooped her character around the stage, but man, that voice.
Fantastic puppet work, small-scale innovative sets (particularly during “Travel Song”) and tonnes of great visual gags incorporating references to other musicals make this touring production of Shrek The Musical a treat for the senses, whether you’re a big kid or little – or only here for the fart jokes.
Shrek The Musical is at King’s Theatre, Glasgow until Saturday, 6th October – click here to book. The tour then continues to Belfast, Dublin, Plymouth, Southampton and Leeds: see shrekthemusical.co.uk for details.
Production photos by Helen Maybanks and Tristram Kenton; used with permission.