REVIEW: Shrek the Musical | Redbrick | University of Birmingham

REVIEW: Shrek the Musical

Culture Critic Holly Reaney reviews the must see touring show 'Shrek: The Musical' at The New Alexandra Theatre

There will be very few people reading this for whom Shrek was not an icon of their childhood, and there’s even fewer who would not belt out ‘I'm a Believer’ at full pelt given the opportunity. This point was perfectly proved by the rendition of the hit film tune after bows, which saw audience members giving it their all alongside clapping hands and tapping feet. It felt like a massive party – which I guess it was.

Despite being based on the Oscar-winning (who knew) film, Shrek: the Musical was a stand-alone success filled with laughter, romance and that essential bit of musical sparkle. This all-singing, all-dancing spectacular was truly fabulous. Advertised as ‘fun for all the family’, it did not disappoint with adults and children alike laughing at the slapstick humour and the rather impressive competition of farts and burps that accompanied the ‘I Think I Got You Beat’ song – which was one of the catchiest in the show. However, it was (hopefully) only the adults that chuckled as some of Lord Farquaad’s slightly less child friendly and slightly more crude innuendo humour, alongside the jokes about fairy-tale conventions and the incredible technicality of the staging and complex dance routines. 

I was amazed at how the animated world of Shrek was so flawless translated onto stage with no compromises

There was no star of the show. Steffan Harri was transformed into Shrek through the incredible costume designed by Tim Hately and Harri’s own fiercely independent, lovable ogre personality. I can’t imagine anyone else taking on the role with such an energy and enthusiasm, Harri really brought everyone’s favourite ogre to life. Call the Midwife star Laura Main (better known as Shelagh or Sister Bernadette) starred as Princess Fiona and was the perfect companion to Harri’s Shrek. She matched his energy, enthusiasm and feistiness, as together they propelled the narrative forwards. The pair were accompanied on their quest by their noble steed. Marcus Ayton was Donkey. He completely embodied the fast-talking, interrupting, sassy character that we all know and love. A character only improved by Ayton’s incredible singing and dancing, and for those numbers, Donkey was definitely centre stage.

A commendation must be made to Samuel Holmes for his performance of Lord Farquaad since he spent the majority of his time on stage marching about on his knees. I was worried this obvious trick would feel a little bit pantomime (not that there’s anything wrong with that but there’s a time and a place), however the disguising worked well and I was able to enter into the belief that Lord Farquaad really was only two-feet tall. Holmes provided an excellent anthesis to the three heroes, he was egoistical and slightly repulsive, though the addition of the backstory which the musical provided gave him a depth of character that was slightly missing from the original film.

You know I said earlier that there was no star of the show, well there is one character of whom I am still in awe. Operated by four people dressed in black, the fourteen-foot puppet brought the misunderstood Dragon to the New Alexandra Theatre as though it had come straight from the screen. Voiced by the incredibly powerful Lucinda Shaw, Dragon was a beautifully realistic and fragile looking creation, with papery skin that rippled in a truly reptilian way, again a product of amazing design from Tim Hately.

What surprised me most about Shrek: the Musical was how incredibly like the film it was. Visually characters looked incredibly similar to their onscreen counterparts, though more fascinatingly, they sounded exactly as they do in the film. A particular shout out must be made to Joseph Dockree whose Pinocchio could have been lifted from the screen. Whilst, we are talking about Pinocchio, I must say, I am still unsure as to how they made his nose grow, the only explanation I have is fairytale magic!

The upbeat and catchy songbook by David Lindsay-Abaire with music by Jeanine Tesori provided a brilliant sense of personality to each character. The musical is also littered with a variety of playful yet subtle references to other broadway classics including Wicked, Chicago, The Lion King, and Les Misérables – definitely keep your eye out for those. The addition of ‘I’m A Believer’ and the ‘Welcome to Duloc’ song it in touch with the popular film, and provided nice touchstones.  The ‘Welcome to Duloc’ scene was identical to the automated wooden scene within the film, except the small wooden characters were realised as wooden style people, dancing as though they were made of wood. The style and inclusion of this specific scene really fitted into the feel of the musical and was a lovely reference to the film. Throughout the whole show I was amazed at how the animated world of Shrek was so flawlessly translated onto the stage with no compromises.

A fabulous evening, jam packed with big, toe-tapping musical numbers and even bigger heart, Shrek: the Musical is a must see. It is on at the New Alexandra Theatre until the 25th February, before continuing to tour around the UK.



16th February 2018 at 3:42 pm

Images from

Helen Maybanks