Book & Lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire
Music by Jeanine Tesori
Directed by Robert Nee
Somebody once told me…
Well, it’s better than once upon a time, right? For over twenty years now, DreamWorks’ Shrek has taken the fairy-tale stories we all grew up with and, well, done unspeakable things with them. The tale of an Ogre left behind to fend for himself – growing apart from the world, who wants nothing more than to stay put in his Swamp, then finds himself on a fetch quest for a Princess trapped in the tallest tower. Aided by his noble(ish) steed(ish), Shrek, Donkey & Princess Fiona have become as beloved as the classical tales of our childhoods.
So of course, a Musical was to follow. A musical production, which, true-to-form of the film and original book, sits just outside the commonplace. Possessing the lyrics of David Lindsay-Abaire, and music from Jeanine Tesori, Shrek claims the foundations of musical theatre, but enough sourness from the original plot to stand apart. And after a mere delay of two years, The Bohemians have finally been able to stage their larger-than-life production – which rivals any Westend tour in elements, to the grateful audiences of Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre.
Lurking amidst the fairy tale critters infesting the swamp, a few gremlins sneak into the opening night jitters. Mercifully, Lord Farquad sends these gremlins with their touch of chaos to the opening twenty minutes back to the swamp with the other fairy-tale creatures. And more than handling this technical hitch like a truly professional body, there’s rallying behind the remainder of the show – almost as if this blip strengthened the cast’s resilience and determination, rather than cause ripples of worry. Even so far as to allow Dominic Lewis, making a superbly welcome return to the stage, to offer up an ad-lib quip as the short-statured, but larger than life Lord Farquuad.
Those familiar with previous works of Bare productions, another of Edinburgh Grass Roots companies, will know Lewis’ behind the scenes work – but those unfamiliar are in for a stellar treat. Lewis’ comedic precision and lording it up our pint-sized antagonist puts any concerns to rest, as does Andrew Gardiner’s dry-witted Shrek, who challenges any Westend variant of the role head-on – guiding the cast forward through the swamp, the towers and eventually to a marvellously happily ever after. His control is exceptional, unfaltering where an error may occur and spearhead this production with solid vocals and a significant dose of personality.
While the effortless charm and (lack of) grace of Rachel Anderson’s Princess Fiona deliver the belter numbers I Know It’s Today with equally talented Alice McAslan and Charlotte Dickson as young & teen Fiona.
And while tremendous praise is down to the costumes of That Looks Good, it’s how the cast wears them which also makes the difference. Few seem uncomfortable in their fairytale get-up (some even looking better). But no one wears their tail quite as superbly as Rebecca Drever. For any who caught her 2019 turn as Wednesday Addams, Drever’s vocal capability is, without question, the strongest in the cast – turning Dragon from a side character to a firm favourite. Sultry, stable and only a mild arsonist, even the brief chemistry she can play around with Alex Singh’s Donkey is brilliant.
Singh has hit that precise and difficult balance of beyond irritatingly adorable, and just plain irritating, in the kindest sense. Performers struggle to escape Eddie Murphy’s vocal performance of the film, but Singh achieves a variation of the star’s take on Donkey while infusing his momentum. Pushing tremendous physicality and an absurd level of rubber-faced comedic expressions – Singh is having a ball. As are Ross MacPherson and Fiona Hogg as runaway roles Pinocchio and Gingy the Gingerbread man. MacPherson’s brand of dry, wooden humour, a particular delight.
But this physicality also draws focus towards the slower-paced of characters, likely down to heavy costume and make-up, while others can prance and skip, others struggle to capture a physical performance to the same level. Fiona Jackson’s choreography works wonderfully to infuse a sense of movement for the large cast sequences, but at times there’s a lot of space unused by the principal leads – Robert Nee’s direction tight, pushing emotion, but struggling with range and projection (even outside of the technical difficulties).
Shrek the Musical was never about pristine, dull, tightly woven storytelling and numbers. It revels in being the alternative to the typical family fairy-tale – and even with time finds itself still skirting the edges of its peers, is still an exceptional musical for all ages. And after a two-year delay, The Bohemians Shrek The Musical is certainly a well-deserved Happy Ever After.
The Bohemians Shrek The Musical runs until March 19th. Tickets for which can be obtained here.