I’m a believer in the power of theatre to inspire youth and a quick trip to the Churchill Theatre in Bromley reinforced my thoughts as the curtain was raised on the Summer Youth Production of Jeanine Tesori & David Lindsay-Abaire’s Shrek the Musical.
In a swamp in a forest lives an ogre by the name of Shrek (Daniel Pratten, Benedict King and Ben Salter). He lives alone and friendless and likes it that way. Then one day there a large number of fairy-tale creatures are suddenly dumped in the swamp destroying Shrek’s peace and quiet. The creatures explain that they have been banishment from the kingdom of Duloc, by order of the evil Lord Farquaad (Joshua Williams-Ward). Shrek is having none of this. The swamp is his and his alone so he sets off to have a word with Lord Farquaad. As he travels to Duloc, Shrek meets and becomes entangled with a talking donkey (Lucy Miller, Karson Reynolds & Freya Millard) and together they head into Farquaad’s perfect town. Farquaad himself, whilst happy he has Duloc of the fairy-tale creatures is not entirely happy. Gingy the Gingerbread Man (Lavinia Ewart) has pointed out that Duloc is not a kingdom because Farquaad is not a king. Under torture from Farquaad’s henchman, Thelonious (Tom Licence) Gingy reveals that in the tallest tower of a castle surrounded by hot boiling lava and guarded by a terrible fire-breathing dragon (Meredith Matthews) there is the beautiful Princess Fiona (Nadia Pettit-Johnston, Lucy Coop and Evie Hone) waiting to be rescued by a dashing hero who will give her ‘love’s first kiss’ and release her from all her prisons. Whilst excited by the idea of marrying Fiona – and thus becoming a king – Farquaad is less enamoured with the thought of putting himself in danger. Thinking fast, he strikes a bargain with Shrek – go and rescue the princess in return for the deeds to his swamp – and so, together Donkey and Shrek head off to snatch Fiona from under the nose of the dragon and return her to Farquaad so that everyone can live happily ever after.
Reading the programme notes and I have to admit I was absolutely amazed at how little time Director Glen Tillin had taken to bring this production to the stage. Seriously, hats off, standing ovation and massive amounts of kudos to all of the production team in putting on a first-rate performance. A cast of around 120 and an orchestra, under Musical Director Daniel Beach, of 14, make this one heck of a production. With a set used in the UK productions and a dragon beautifully worked by puppeteers Chloe Mason, Hermione Hollman, Jasmine Stephenson, Jayden White, Sasha Selhi and Selina Thakker, under Director of Puppetry (Rebecca O’Brien) that flew in especially from the USA, Shrek has the look of a West End show from the start. Yes, there were a few sound issues initially but these didn’t really detract from the performances on the stage.
The idea of having three Shreks, Donkeys and Fionas seemed a little strange at first but actually worked really well. Each trio took over from the previous one seamlessly and all three groupings worked as a very close-knit team determined to present a fantastic performance. However, even with the multiple main leads, there was one actor that truly excelled in their role. Small in stature but huge in stage presence, Joshua Williams-Ward was absolutely amazing as the evil Lord Farquaad. I saw the original West End production in 2011 and have to say Joshua even outshone Nigel Harman in the role. He pulled every nuance of Farquaad’s warped personality out and, especially when contending with hats reluctant to stay on his head, his performance was first-rate from start to finish. In fact, no matter how small or large the part, all of the cast gave the performance everything they had and produced a superb result.
There were many highlights for me in the show. Some great songs, especially ‘Freak Flag’ which had pretty much the entire cast on the stage and down in the auditorium dancing away – nice work by Choreographer Larissa Web – and the really heart-breaking “I Know It’s Today” (with Bell Pettit-Nascimento and Amelia Pettit-Johnston as Young and Teen Fiona respectively). In fact, far too many to moments to list here.
A huge team of creatives and performers worked flat out to put on Shrek and I have to say, it delivered everything I could want in a musical in a truly awesome style which left me feeling happy, satisfied and knowing that the future of musical theatre is assured.
Review by Terry Eastham
With Book and Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and Music by Jeanine Tesori we invite you to join us on an action-packed journey filled with fairytale folk, talking animals, a dragon and of course an ogre or two!
This is a non-professional production.
Shrek the Musical
Summer Youth Production
Churchill Theatre, Bromley
THU 8 – SAT 10 AUGUST 2019