After being invited to see Shrek the Musical, I approached the evening with high hopes of reliving the magic of the DreamWorks film. What would the play include or remove? What would it add? How would it feel to see when the classic is so well-loved? These are some ogre-sized boots for it to fill!
All photography credited to Marc Brenner – courtesy of the Shrek the Musical UK and Ireland Tour 2023-4
Shrek the Musical delivered moments of impressive vocal talent and spectacle but, it wasn’t entirely without fault. Shrek himself (Antony Lawrence) was really well played and did the character justice, and the show itself was a glitzy and glamorous production akin to a pantomime. Unfortunately there were a few reasons why it couldn’t entirely escape the shadow of its cinematic predecessor or help me to relive the magic.
Welcome to Duloch, such a perfect town
The town of Duloch was a particular highlight… After all, Duloch is a perfect place! The ‘torture’ scene of Gingy (Georgie Buckland) to gather information on Princess Fiona (Joanne Clifton) was really well executed (pun intended) with the matching costumes of the townsfolk really capturing the spirit of the place. In fact, most of the outfits of the fairy-tale creatures were excellent. Some left a little to the imagination, such as the three little pigs outfits, but the majority of them were incredible.
Overall the production value matched what I’d expect from something that originated in the West end; the choreography was flawless and there were some outstanding voices amongst the cast. One absolutely stand-out performance from Cherece Richards who played the dragon, blew the roof off with her voice, leaving goosebumps in its wake. The young actress playing Gingy also had some talent! Her whistle tones and astoundingly high register gave me chills!
They don’t stop coming… and they don’t stop coming…
I’m not usually so pointed with my critiques but I feel that this needs to be said; unfortunately the writing was dated and lazy. The reliance on fat jokes and queer-coding was unnecessary, leaving a somewhat unpleasant aftertaste. For example, the song ‘Freak Flag’ was intended to encourage everyone to embrace their individuality and break free from societal expectations. With lyrics like “Let your colours burst, let your spirit soar”, amongst lyrics like “I’m a fatty” and jokes about how Shrek compared Fiona to the moon BUT NOT IN A FAT WAY… It was eye-rollingly jarring.
It came across as quite disingenuous to perpetuate negative stereotypes and encourage body shaming while simultaneously trying to reinforce how important it is to embrace who you are. Everyone deserves to be comfortable of course… except fat people who can continue to be the butt of the joke, and LGBTQ+ people and their hilarious little mannerisms. Queer coding villains is also such an old-fashioned trope that although it was objectively really well played and the costumes were brilliant, I couldn’t help but think that the camp Lord Farquad (James Gillan) and the ‘cross-dressing wolf’ (Scotty Armstrong) were written with insincerity and poor taste.
That’ll do, Donkey.
If you’re hoping to relive the nostalgia of Shrek, watch the film. It’s the story in its purest form and the reason it became a classic was because it was brilliant as it was. Not even the closing song, ‘I’m a Believer’, could put the same warm feeling in my heart as the original. With its pantomime-esque lilt and its vibrant, energetic costumes and performances, this play is clearly more aimed at children who are new to the fairy-tale; perhaps the children of millennial adults. But if you, like me, don’t want your kids to have the same old-fashioned views of fatness and queer people, let’s wait to see if they update those jokes that keep them looking kinda dumb…
…with a finger and a thumb in the shape of an L on their forehead.