That the film Shrek is so universally loved is not difficult to understand; it is funny, gently surprising and very good-looking, in spite of its unconventional hero. Unfortunately, the stage show inherits none of its celluloid cousin's charm. In fact, it somehow manages to transform almost every quality of the film into a crass and puerile failure. DreamWorks have thrown a lot of money at this production, but none of it can compensate for the evident lack of heart and soul in this dispiriting branding exercise.
The story should transfer well to the stage. An intricate pun on almost every fairytale in existence, Shrek tells the story of a grumpy but loveable ogre, whose heart's desire is to be left alone to wallow in his swamp, catching the odd creature for dinner and being generally unpleasant. When the real villain, Lord Farquaad, rounds up every Pinocchio, Snow White and Goldilocks he can get his hands on, banishing them to the very swamp Shrek holds so dear, the ogre makes a deal with Farquaad: if he rescues the sleeping Princess from the tower and delivers her to Farquaad, Shrek will win back his exclusive rights to the swamp.
Of course, nothing is as simple as that: the Princess turns out to be Princess Fiona, a beautiful Princess by day and a beautiful ogre by night. While both she and Lord Farquaad see this night-time change as an inconvenient curse, Shrek and his fast talking sidekick, Donkey, recognise it as an opportunity. Soon enough, via several burping competitions and slanging matches, the inevitable happens and Shrek and Fiona fall in love.
There should be much to enjoy in all this, but given the leaden direction and uninspired performances, it is the set and Hugh Vanstone's lighting design that really stand out. The stage transforms before our eyes, bursting into life and lifting itself up on crazy angles, tipping the actors every which-way as they valiantly continue to sing, their grins fixed to their faces as they try to maintain their balance. The candy-floss design is intelligent and witty and makes every use it can of a budget smaller shows would kill for. It mirrors the film perfectly and leaves those wanting to exactly replicate the film experience in no doubt that they are well and truly getting what they wanted: brand Shrek is on full and fine display and will not disappoint.
Unfortunately, this is where the treats end in this production. The performances are truly deadening and the story has not been adapted for the stage well - there is an ominous sense that elements of the film are being ticked off the list for good measure rather than woven into the story-telling. This is in part down to the direction, which somehow manages to avoid instilling this show with any sense of drama or suspense; neither the moments of danger nor those of expectation really hit the audience and we are left with nothing more than an anodyne story we feel we should be enjoying more than we actually are.
Carly Stenson as Fiona delivers an efficient performance, but doesn't have the twinkle in her eye she needs to make Fiona the true heroine she should be. Dean Chisnell's Shrek is not given enough personality to make us believe that beneath the tough exterior is a beating heart and Richard Blackwood as Donkey is simply not funny enough to justify inevitable expectations. In his mouth the jokes either fall like a dead-weight or are so mis-timed as to be unrecognisable. The songs, too, are entirely forgettable and do nothing to rouse the spirits or really move the story on - and it seems the actors know it. Their voices are thin and frequently off-key, the harmonies at times descending into the excruciating. The real star is Landi Oshinowo, who voices the dragon wonderfully. Her voice is rich and strong and squeezes the most sass ashe can from the songs she is given. Combined with the giant dragon puppet she voices, Oshinowo provides a moment of welcome relief.
This is all disappointing, but is nothing in comparison to the fact that this production seems intent on making a virtue of its own failures. Gaps in the story, crass jokes in the place of genuine comedy and moments of jaw-dropping offence are laboured upon and repeated, as if by acknowledging its shortcomings the show can fool us into thinking they are intentional. In the hands of someone else, the outrageous might be transformed into something quirky or brilliant. Unfortunately David Lindsay-Abaire is neither John Cleese nor Ricky Gervais, and it is clear that the producers think that the simple word "Shrek" will guarantee good audiences regardless of the quality of the show. Sadly, of course, they are absolutely right.
Name of Show: Shrek the Musical
Book: David Lindsay-Abaire
Composer/Music: Jeanine Tesori
Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire
Premiered: 14 August 2008 (5th Avenue Theatre, Seattle)
This Production Opened: 6 May 2011
Tweet: Green ogre falls for Princess in fairytale world. She plays hard-to-get and he fights adversity to win her. Musical comedy adventure.
Synopsis: Shrek tells the story of a grumpy but loveable ogre who longs to be left in peace in his swamp. When Lord Farquaad decides to round up every character in this fairytale world, Shrek is horrified that they are to be banished to his swamp. Shrek makes a deal with Farquaad: if he rescues a sleeping Princess from the tower and delivers her safely to Farquaad, Shrek will win back his exclusive rights to the swamp. The Princess turns out to be Fiona, a beautiful Princess by day and an ogre by night. With the help of a hilarious dragon and a donkey, Shrek manages the impossible and successfully delivers Fiona to her wedding with Farquaad. While both she and Lord Farquaad see her nighttime change as an inconvenient curse, Shrek recognises it as an opportunity. Soon enough, the inevitable happens and the two ogres fall in love. That Fiona is betrothed to Lord Farquaad causes a temporary lull in their affections, but eventually they are reunited against the Lordly villain. With the help of various faces from the world of fairytales, the pair are finally married and go to live happily in the swamp, Fiona renouncing her royal rights in favour of her true, ogre nature.
- The seduction of Shrek's sidekick, Donkey, by the dragon who keeps Fiona in the tower is a memorable and funny highlight.
Why See It: This production sticks faithfully to the film and all of your favourite characters will make an appearance. The set and lighting are impressive and will transport you to the land of fairytales for an hour or two. The children in the audience enjoyed it and added to an atmosphere more akin to a panto than to a West End show.
Caveat: It lacks the cute charm of the film and rushes through the plot too fast to really make it enjoyable. The songs are not as memorable as they could be and the singing lacks the energy and precision of most West End musicals.
- Many of the characters made their first appearance in William Steig's 1990 cartoon strip "Shrek!".
- 'Shrek' is Yiddish for 'monster'.
- The song "Welcome to Duloc" is the only one to have survived from the film, and is in itself a parody of "It's a Small World", an infamous song playing during the World Disney ride of the same name - it is in the same key and has the same beats per minute...
Featuring new songs as well as cult Shrek anthem – 'I'm a Believer', SHREK THE MUSICAL brings the well loved characters to life, in a hilarious and spectacular new production based on the Oscar®-winning DreamWorks Animation film. The world of fairytales is turned upside down in an all singing, all dancing, irresistible mix of adventure, laughter and romance.
Age Recommendation: Shrek The Musical is recommended for a general audience. As an advisory to adults who might bring young people, the show is suitable for ages 5 and up. It is the policy of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane that any child under the age of 4 will not be admitted into the theatre. All persons entering the theatre, regardless of age, must have a ticket.
Theatre Royal Drury LaneCatherine Street
London Greater London United Kingdom WC2B 5JF
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes
Dean Chisnall, Richard Blackwood and Carley Stenson © Helen Maybanks
Carley Stenson as Princess Fiona © Helen Maybanks
Dean Chisnall (Shrek) and Richard Blackwood (Donkey) © Tristram Kenton