Thursday, October 11, 2018

Shrek The Musical - a sparkling adaptation of well-loved film (Grand Opera House until 21 October)

My social media feeds yesterday were full of messages about World Mental Health Day as well as the Supreme Court verdict about the ‘gay cake’, a funding crisis in local schools, an increasingly fractious Brexit debate and further revelations at the RHI Inquiry.

So heading out to the Grand Opera House to see Shrek The Musical should have been a bit of a tonic … until I remembered that the main character was an ogre who wanted to drain his swamp of internally displaced persons and build a wall around it to protect himself.

Shrek (Steffan Harri) agrees to rescue a puppeteering princess for the diminutive Lord Farquaad in return for regaining control of his swamp and returning to a life of solitude. Donkey latches onto the intrepid green adventurer and together they set out to evade a dragon, capture the princess and deal with raging hormones, insecure friendships and body image issues along the way.

The stage version of the well-loved animated film retains much of the original humour and uses video (special) effects to add a little sparkle to the set which is much more intricate than you’ll see at a pantomime yet delivers incredibly slick scene changes throughout the two and a half hour show. The puppetry is fun – the Gingerbread Man stole every scene he appeared in (kudos to his handler Jemma Revell) – and the flying dragon is a great reminder that animatronics aren’t needed to bring larger than life characters to life on a theatre stage.

Samuel Holmes brings the little tyrant Lord Farquaad to life, with fabulous choreography that is never satisfied and continues to explore what an actor can do while hobbling around the stage on his knees. Marcus Ayton injects suitable amounts of attitude and booty shaking to Donkey, while Amelia Lily gracefully transitions between sassy locked-up Princess Fiona and insecure bride-to-be with a fear of the night.

The slightly bashful nature of Shrek diminished Steffan Harri’s on stage presence for the first half of the show. It was only after the interval that his quiet voice began to convincingly inhabit the larger-than-life central character who tended to sing with his feet glued to the ground, perhaps losing some of the energy the young audience required.

The supply of fart jokes never smelt stale and delighted both young and old in the audience. While the 7pm curtain up is family-friendly and early, some of the youngest audience members were clearly way past their bedtimes and running out of steam by the end of the performance.

The devil of success in a kids’ show is in the detail. Watch out for the cow that flies over the moon, Pinocchio’s nose, a mention of Brexit, as well as beautiful tableaux created by the fairytale cast, particularly during Freak Flag. Understudy Sophie Wallis deserves a special mention for her vocal prowess as the dragon in last night’s performance.

“God bless us, everyone” commands the Gingerbread man as the show concludes and he picks up a bugle and some drumsticks to play out the closing title sequence song I’m a Believer which sends everyone out onto Great Victoria Street with a smile on their faces and warm glow in their hearts.

Shrek The Musical is loitering in the Grand Opera House’s swamp until Sunday 21 October.

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