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Review of Shrek The Musical at New Wimbledon Theatre

SHREK THE MUSICAL 2015 company. Dean Chisnall (Shrek) and Bronté Barbé (Princess Fiona).
SHREK THE MUSICAL 2015 company. Dean Chisnall (Shrek) and Bronté Barbé (Princess Fiona). Credit Helen Maybanks

It’s not often that an actor wows an audience on his knees. But this is what Gerard Carey does in Shrek The Musical as Lord Farquaad, a role previously inhabited by Nigel Harman, who now makes his directorial debut in this UK tour. Carey stamps his own authority in this comic role, becoming a very likeable antagonist – as much of a paradox as it sounds. A couple of movements were debatably too risqué for a family show, though things never unquestionably crossed the boundary of suitable viewing, and there was much laughter to be had by young and old alike.

Dean Chisnall as Shrek has already proved his worth in the same role during this show’s West End run. He brings a little too much warmth to the lead role – despite the descriptions of ogres not being very far off from what you would find out from a dictionary definition, there was always the sense that Shrek could be persuaded to be rather more helpful than his assumed persona would otherwise dictate. But if none of the younger members of the audience burst into tears out of fear, there’s no harm done.

What becomes Shrek’s sidekick, Donkey (a seemingly boundlessly energetic Idriss Kargbo) brings yet more comedy to this production, while Princess Fiona (Bronté Barbé), pleasant and feisty in equal measure, is surprisingly endearing. There are, truth be told, fart jokes that outlast their welcome, but I must take issue with the argument that this show doesn’t have any memorable tunes. I still have lines from ‘Welcome to Duloc’ and ‘I Think I Got You Beat’ swirling around in my head, and if the hearty rendition of ‘I’m A Believer’ isn’t ‘memorable’, then what exactly would be?

Inventive staging adds much to the evening’s entertainment in this fast-paced show, which succeeds in subverting the usual or expected order of things from what is essentially a fairy story. And what’s not to like when a musical slams its foot hard on the accelerator and serves up a celebratory song and dance? Whether it’s letting “your freak flag fly” or alleged lawbreakers in the stocks hand jiving like something out of ‘Grease’, it’s the sort of spirit-lifting that comes with a spectacular show.

There’s a large ensemble, and a suitably large orchestra, neither of which are necessarily the case in touring productions of big shows that have completed West End runs. For musical regulars, there are multiple allusions to other established shows to look out for, some subtler than others. The projections and special effects are effective and all the more impressive for not detracting from the narrative or the cast’s efforts. Rather like the animated television series ‘The Simpsons’, Shrek The Musical is multi-layered, with different elements to be appreciated more by different generations than others. Just don’t come expecting anything too deep or philosophical – it’s all quite simple, really, and it works.

No expense seems to have been spared on the costumes, either, with remarkable attention to detail. The choreography is impressive and Will Haswell, Keith Henderson, Ryan Reid and Kevin Yates did very well in puppeteering a huge Dragon (voiced by Candance Furbert – what a powerful vocal!). All things considered, you’re bound to get your money’s worth by booking to see this worthy, and refreshingly non-preachy, musical, which reminds us that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that beautiful doesn’t have to mean ‘pretty’. There’s hope for us all in this pleasant, absorbing and enjoyable experience.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

The UK & Ireland tour of SHREK THE MUSICAL is directed by Nigel Harman who starred as Lord Farquaad in the west end production, winning him the 2012 Laurence Olivier Award for Best Performance in a Supporting Role in a Musical. SHREK THE MUSICAL opened at the Grand Theatre in Leeds on Wednesday 23 July 2014 and has since attracted huge audiences and five star reviews, ‘taking ogre’ 25 venues up and down the country.

SHREK THE MUSICAL stars Dean Chisnall as beloved swamp-dwelling ogre ‘Shrek’, the role he previously played in the West End, Bronté Barbé as damsel in distress ‘Princess Fiona’, Idriss Kargbo as Shrek’s wisecracking sidekick ‘Donkey’ and Gerard Carey as pint-sized villain ‘Lord Farquaad’.

They are joined by a full company of fairy-tale characters including Laura Baldwin, Nikki Bentley, Jennifer Caldwell, Alexander Day, Candace Furbert, Alexandra Grierson, Will Haswell, Keith Henderson, James Lacey, Will Jennings, Iain Mattley, Christina Modestou, Sam Murphy, Amy Oxley, Ryan Reid, Jacqui Sanchez, Jake Small, Oliver Tester, Dawn Williams and Kevin Yates.

LISTINGS INFORMATION
Wednesday 20th January 2016 – Sunday 31st January 2016
NEW WIMBLEDON THEATRE

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