SHREK is a little like Sondheim’s Into The Woods – with familiar fairy tale characters linked by a new story. From my first knowledge of Shrek I was intrigued: a cinema trailer with famous fairytale characters started appearing in late 2000, even before very grown-up films, and I was hooked. When the film came out I was among the first to see it, and have seen every film since, including the not-so-hot spin-off Puss in Boots.
One of my favourite things about the films has always been the use of famous songs, from Rufus Wainwright’s Hallelujah to The Monkees’ I’m A Believer. I was therefore a little concerned to hear that most of the music for the stage version is original, although at least that final Monkees song has remained.
Sadly, my concern was not unfounded – the musical stage version of Shrek, which has just arrived at Bristol Hippodrome for the next three weeks, directed by Nigel Harman, who won an Olivier for his Farquaad in the West End production, although probably best known as Sharon’s late husband in Eastenders, is proving very popular, but is it spectacular enough?
Dean Chisnall is completely authentic in the title role, with a wonderful, lyrical voice full of expression, a great Scottish accent, and believable acting to rival Mike Myers in the film. Faye Brooks sparkles as princess Fiona, with just the right balance of regal politeness and sulky moodiness. Gerard Carey is wonderful as the comic, tiny, villain, Lord Farquaad, and plays most of the role on his knees to great effect. Idriss Kargbo is a lovable donkey, and while he may not have the comic timing of Eddie Murphy, he is a great singer and dancer.
The set and costumes were very clever, especially the four-person puppet dragon, and all of the subsidiary fairy tale characters looked and sounded accurate as they told the story of an imprisoned princess guarded by a dragon, rescued by an Ogre and almost married to a very short Lord, but rescued again by the same Ogre, with whom she has fallen in love.
The music was well sung, played and danced to, but was not very memorable. I can recall a couple of good ballads, especially one sung by Shrek in Act Two, and a big anthem about it being OK to be a freak, but the only song I can remember with any certainty is the aforementioned I’m A Believer, sung after the curtain calls as an encore, one of the best performances in the show, and sadly missed by anyone who had rushed off to catch a bus or train during the applause.
This is a big show, playing until Sunday 7th September at Bristol, with big publicity and an ability to sell tickets based on the success of the film franchise alone. Fans of the film may enjoy it for the chance to relive the story and reacquaint themselves with familiar characters, but the main feeling I was left with was one of disappointment.