Shrek the Musical - UK Tour - New Wimbledon Theatre
Ogre sighted in Wimbledon
The Dreamworks classic is back out on the road, Shrek once again leaving the confines of his swamp and setting out to rewrite the book on fairytales. Joined by his trusted sidekick Donkey, the pair rescue the cursed Princess Fiona in exchange for the return of Shrek’s swamp after the kingdom’s fairytale creatures were deposited there by the horrid Lord Farqaad. Brimming with jokes for all ages, a brilliant score and a bold green heart, Shrek remains a firm family favourite 22 years (yikes I feel old) after he belched his way into our lives.
At the core of this show is a worthy tale about identity, acceptance and celebrating individuality - one of the many reasons that Shrek remains such a popular property - oh and the memes helped too. Antony Lawrence embodies our green hero wonderfully, albeit with an accent that fluctuates in quality within each line, capturing the stubborn yet heartfelt nature of the ogre. Brandon Lee Sears maintains the Eddie Murphy energy but brings his own wonderful take to the effervescent, talking donkey and professional Strictly winner Joanne Clifton once again proves that her talents extend far beyond the ballroom.
Impressive individual performances emerge out of the talented ensemble too, Georgie Buckland’s gum drop attired Gingy and Cherece Richard’s Dragon both receive the warmest reception of the evening for their stunning vocals. Buckland nails the quotable voice for the pitchy gingerbread man and Richards commands the space like no one else during the song ‘Forever.’ The ensemble prove their versatility in shifting between the plethora of characters from fairytale favourites to Duloc guards and even a mischief of tap dancing rats - Nick Winston’s choreography delivered with full commitment and flair by the cast.
The music under Richard Atkinson’s direction sounds as magnificent as ever - an outstanding soundtrack that at first glance most would not expect from a film to musical adaptation - Jeanine Tesori delivering above and beyond back in 2008 with her composition. Numbers such as ‘I Know It’s Today’ and ‘Freak Flag’ personal highlights. Costume design from Philip Witcomb is vast and eccentric - surely there must be several lorries dedicated to shift the expansive rails up and down the country? But with this being a touring production some corners have been cut in other design elements - the sacrifices going a little too far for me.
The reduction of scale necessitated by the limitations of touring dampens the dazzle of Duloc - worryingly the cost of living has even affected those far far away. Several set pieces have been replaced with capable and cleanly designed projection that sadly struggles to emulate physical scenic objects - a prime example being when Shrek and Donkey are left miming crossing a rickety bridge high above a pool of lava, the immersion somewhat fraying. Unfortunately, the projection utilises a depth effect that relies on audiences being sat dead centre and perpendicular to the stage, any slight alteration to the side creates a blurred image that will leave you pondering a trip to the opticians.
Musical and directorial choices, whether hampered by the commercial nature of the production or not, seem to hinder the show in places. Though clearly the owner of an outstanding voice, lead Antony Lawrence opts to speak rather than sing through the climactic act one closer ‘Who I’d Be’ hampering what should be the rousing peak. As the dragon Cheree Richards offers vocals to bring the roof down, seriously sensational, but the direction has her stand separated from the impressive and recognisable puppet of the dragon so Brandon Lee Sears’s Donkey isn’t quite sure where he is supposed to be looking.
Issues truly arise with the character of Lord Farqaad. No longer performed by an actor on his knees to rightfully avoid harmful stereotyping, the character fails to find his footing with the original punchline leaving a gaping hole in the script. James Gillan dutifully powers through with a flamboyant entitled persona whilst the script retains the plot line of his parentage, caught in two minds over the direction it wants to take - more work required. Some updates have thankfully occurred to remove now problematic lines and lyrics, a welcome sight to ensure audiences keep enjoying the show for years to come.
As the green man himself says, ‘Onions have layers. Ogres have layers’ but maybe it's best not to peel back too many of them in case what’s left is not to our liking. The decreased production value leaves little shielding for the cracks to hide behind and the world a little less big, bright and beautiful but nonetheless this remains a bombastic musical, oozing with heart - a perfect family trip to the theatre for children and children at heart alike.
On tour until April 2024 - Tickets
Photography - Marc Brenner