Liz Coggins reviews the launch of the national tour at The Grand Theatre Leeds.
If you thought Shrek was just for kids – then think again. It’s rather like pantomime – sweet, sugary and innocent but subtlety laced with some rather cheeky innuendoes that make it an hilarious experience for grown ups.
General Manager, Ian Sime, has once again pulled out all stops and secured Leeds audiences the fantastic experience of being the very first to witness this great national tour of this great musical.
The musical stems from DreamWorks motion picture and the book by William Steig. It’s the story of Shrek the ogre and the feisty Princess Fiona both consigned by their parents to a life of solitude.
There’s no prizes for guessing the plot – of course the inevitable happens Shrek sets out to rescue the princess. Along the way he meets a dragon, fairy tale characters who are squatters in his swamp, a talking donkey and the love child of Snow White and Grumpy, a diminutive Lord Farquaad- but believe it or not everything ends happily.
Tour director Nigel Harman has created a seamless production which moves at a cracking pace. The staging and sets are simple yet effective and give a wonderful tongue in cheek fairytale effect. I loved the opening scene where the story book opens up and takes us into the tale, the gap under the curtain in the preamble to the tap dancing rats,the large puppet dragon and Lord Farquaad’s silver charger Spearmint Rhino with its reversing alarm.
As Shrek Dean Chisnall is simply amazing and finds just the right balance between comedy and pathos. Shrek is a draining physical role with the padding and prosthetics but somehow he makes it all look so easy and controlled.
Faye Brookes as Princess Fiona is feisty but has a perfect gift for comedy timing in the role. Together Brookes and Chisnall are a great team with the ability to bring a tear to the eye one minute and have you rolling in the aisles, as they say, with laughter the next. In the duets their voices blend together beautifully.
Spending the whole of nearly 3 hours on your knees must be sheer physical torment but that’s exactly what Gerard Carey as Lord Farquaad does. Farquaad is one of those parts that steals the show and this is exactly what Carey does. He’s wonderfully camp and a master at the art of innuendo and tackles a demanding role brilliantly.
I couldn’t believe that Idriss Kargbo, who plays Donkey was only 18. What a talented young man he is. His interpretation was spot on and he certainly has put his own stamp on the role. His body movements, facial expression, comedy timing and characterisation are excellent – and he was certainly just one big hit with the kids in the audience.
Shrek the musical couldn’t possibly survive without its talented ensemble who double, treble, act as puppeteers, dance, sing and take on the most unbelievable characterisations during the show. For principals and ensemble alike this show is a marathon and a test of both artistic and physical stamina.
Although Shrek has no memorable songs – although I was singing Big Bright Beautiful World for a few days after the show – the final song of the performance that old classic I’m a Believer certainly lifts the audience and spurs them to nearly rocking in the aisles.
Shrek is a happy show with a feel good factor for the young and not so young at heart. Make sure you don’t miss it.