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Review: Shrek - The Musical at Newcastle Theatre Royal

It's a musical show about an ogre who lives in a swamp but Shrek is a sparkling musical success

*****
Idriss Kargbo (Donkey) and Dean Chisnall (Shrek)
Idriss Kargbo (Donkey) and Dean Chisnall (Shrek)

My teenage son accompanied me to the press night because he’s something of a ‘Shrexpert’, well versed in the lore of Shrek as conveyed by the hugely popular films.

What would he make of the stage musical version?

“That was so accurate,” he said after the Monkees-inspired final number, I’m a Believer. “I could watch it all over again.”

There you have it. If you loved the original Shrek film, you’ll probably love this.

But for anyone this show, directed by Nigel Harman, written by David Lindsay-Abaire and with music by Jeanine Tesori. would be hard not to like.

It’s feelgood through and through, with a freshness that belies its principal location – a swamp that is home-sweet-home to an ogre with a wind problem (that is actually not a problem if you’re an ogre).

Shrek the Musical is coming to Newcastle Theatre Royal
Shrek the Musical is coming to Newcastle Theatre Royal

It’s a show that puts heavy demands on costumes and make-up – full marks here because it looks fantastic – but also on its cast. All rise to the occasion.

Dean Chisnall, hidden behind the green ‘slap’ and the fat suit, captures the accent, humour and sensitivity of Shrek who looks as if he could eat you for lunch. The voice is good, with a surprising softness.

As Princess Fiona, Faye Brookes is equally endearing, counting the days to her fairytale release from a gilded tower with signs of increasing exasperation.

What gives the show its heart – as in the films – is its underlying theme. It’s about the rejection suffered by outsiders and their yearning for a place in the world.

The fairytale characters, including Pinocchio, the Three Little Pigs and Peter Pan, have been turfed out of town by wicked Lord Farquaad, just as Shrek was sent out into a hostile world by his parents and Fiona locked up by hers, sticklers all for the conventions of the fairytale genre.

Farquaad, spreading misery from on high, is, of course, very short. Gerard Carey gives a firecracker of a performance, largely on his knees, in one of the show’s great comic turns.

Idriss Kargbo’s Donkey is another source of frenetic energy, probably expending pounds per performance (it was alright for Eddie Murphy; he just had to speak the words).

I loved pretty much everything about this show – the humour, the songs, the puppetry (the dragon is wonderful) and the dancing shoe rats. Now there’s a tease!

To say more would be to spoil the surprise and to expose myself to accusations of eccentricity.

Just see it if you can. My son, meanwhile, is waiting for the sequel.

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