Edinburgh Playhouse – until 8 November 2015
“Spectacular”: There are enough inventive designs and well-honed performances about Shrek the Musical, at the Playhouse to 8 November, to ensure that it hits the spot.
But ultimately it is Shrek’s big heart and the universal power of a great love story which ensures the production rises above both its structural failings and a distinct lack of memorable tunes. This is the DreamWorks animated movie of 2001 given the musical treatment. And like the original, it has just the right balance of potty-level humour, genuine emotion and comfortable happy ending to suck in the cynical and deliver a show that the whole family will enjoy.
Shrek, you will remember, is the great green grumpy ogre whose settled life in a remote swamp is disturbed by the arrival of the complete suite of fairy tale characters – banned from nearby Duloc on the pain of death by Lord Farquaad, its diminutive wannabe king.
Taking on the larger-than-life role is Dean Chisnall – whom Take That fans might remember as the best thing about Never Forget the rather vapid tribute musical in which he played the Gary Barlow character, Ash. Chisnall can still wrap his larynx round a note or two and certainly has his acting chops, even when unrecognisable beneath a mountain of latex body costume.
Larger than life in a rather different way is Idriss Kargbo as Donkey, the “faithful steed” whom Shrek encounters on his way to Duloc. Constantly on the move and with a real physical poise, Kargbo plays up the sight gag that this donkey is far too small to carry Shrek. Although in true sidekick fashion, he gets to carry him emotionally.
Lord Farquaad, as all baddies should, gets the best of what tunes Jeanine Tesori has written for the show. Gerard Carey has the kind of big, sonorous voice which ensures they are given a more than solid outing – and really goes to town in creating the despotic villain, who seems to be rather overcompensating for his lack of height.
Gerard Carey (Lord Farquaad). Photo Helen Maybanks
It is in his physical presentation that Farquaad gets the most laughs. Carey plays him kneeling down, with yellow puppet legs strapped onto his thighs. The result is laugh-out-loud hilarious, largely because of the gait which you have when strutting about on your knees.
Not to mention when he gives it the full musicals treatment with his various minions. Josh Prince’s choreography makes the most of the size element and works brilliantly with the pomposity of the character.
Farquaad needs to marry a princess to become king. So when Shrek turns up wanting his swamp back, off he is sent to rescue the conveniently nearby Princess Fiona.
Bronte Barbe has great fun in the role. It’s 8,423 days since she was locked away, at the age of seven, in a castle guarded by a fire breathing dragon with a penchant for torch-songs.
a truly big music theatre moment
And now, with nothing to do but wait for her prince to come and give her the truelove kiss which will bring fairy tale happiness for ever after, Fiona is understandably somewhat stir-crazy. But for a truly big music theatre moment, look to her big second half opener, Morning Person: a stunning combination of techniques, puppetry, dance and music.
Bronte Barbe (Princess Fiona) and company. Photo: Helen Maybanks
To be honest, the whole show is excellently constructed. The musical numbers peel off the plot like chocolate wafers off greaseproof paper – and are given tight delivery by an ensemble who are drilled to perfection. Not to mention the knowing references to other musicals – from the Lion King to Les Mis and many more in between.
The prosthetics and puppetry are cleverly designed. Dragon is a huge being, worked by three puppeteers and sung, off-stage, by the wonderfully voiced Candace Furbert. Donkey’s skin shimmers and wriggles in a most disconcerting way. Gingy, the gingerbread man, appears on a tin – and is clearly sung by Nikki Bentley.
Yet this only really engages when it gets down to the personal level in I Think I’ve Got You Beat – where Shrek and Fiona are competing for who has had the worst life and can create the most grotesque burps and farts. It takes that level of intimacy to peel away the oh-so-clever layers of artifice.
And for all its brilliant design there are just a few too many little slips in the presentation which break the bubble of enjoyment. Too many times when performers are visible when they should be hidden behind moving screens.
Fun, hugely entertaining, and brilliantly performed, this still just lacks for the true heart which would allow it to shine as it might.
Running time: 2 hours 25 mins (including interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Tuesday 20 October – Sunday 8 November 2015
Tue-Sat (except Tue 27) 7pm; Sun: 1pm & 5pm
Matinees: Sats & Weds 28: 2pm
Tickets and information from: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-bodyguard/edinburgh-playhouse/Tour website: http://shrekthemusical.co.uk/
Shrek on tour 2015/16:
Tue 20 Oct – Sun 8 Nov 2015
Wed 11 – Sun 22 Nov 2015
Wed 25 Nov – Sun 6 Dec 2015
Tue 8 Dec 2015 – Sun 10 Jan 2016
Wed 20 – Sun 31 Jan 2016
New Wimbledon Theatre
Tue 2 – Sat 20 Feb 2016
Idriss Kargbo (Donkey), Bronte Barbe (Princess Fiona) and Dean Chisnall (Shrek). Photo: Helen Maybanks