The big green ogre is in town, along with his princess, his best pal Donkey,a whole host of Fairy Tale characters, and a rather vertically challenged villain. Of course I can only be talking about Shrek the Musical, which arrived at Birmingham’s New Alexandra Theatre last night. The critically acclaimed musical comedy, based on the now classic Dreamworks animation film, is bright and brash, occasionally bawdy, and is one of the most entertaining nights you will have all year. I’m a believer? Hell Yes!
Shrek is the story of an Ogre who forms an alliance with a chatterbox donkey in order to rescue a Princess from a tall tower guarded by a fire eating dragon. It throws all the conventions of our traditional fairy tales on its head, with the exception of the happy ever after. It is the only ‘fairy story’ where the Princess can pass wind as loudly as the ogre, the only one where the fire breathing dragon is just lovesick, and the only one to reveal that at least one of the seven dwarfs once found love and actually sired a baby. Yes, Shrek breaks all the fairy story rules and is all the funnier and more memorable for it.
This is a musical that is beautifully staged, with flawless sets that begin with a magical fairy story book that immediately had the family audience gasping, and continues through to one of my personal favourite set pieces, where Donkey meets the dragon and her ‘backing band’. The songs are not well known standards, but they are great, mixing the poignant (Big, Bright, Beautiful World) with the downright hilarious (The ballard of Farquaad and Freak Flag).
The whole cast are just note perfect, with Stefan Harri bringing the cartoon Shrek to life with his ‘just wanting a quiet life persona’. Laura Main is a fiesty princess, while Marcus Ayton plays Donkey as an amalgam of Prince, James Brown and Michael Jackson – a fantastic energetic performance. But it is Samuel Holmes as Lord Farquaad who gains most of the laughs as he toddles across the stage on those little legs. It is a comedic tour de force that had tears rolling down my eyes – and I was not alone in this.
Shrek is just perfect family entertainment – like pantomime and the best of Disney it works on two levels, so children can laugh happily at the fart jokes whilst adults love Farquaad’s sexual posturing.
This has been described as an ‘all-singing, all-dancing extravaganza.’ I really couldn’t put it any better myself.
Shrek is at the New Alex Theatre until Sunday 25th February, click here for ticket information.