Thursday, March 17, 2022

Shrek The Musical (St Agnes’ Choral Society at Grand Opera House until 19 March)

A good theatre production of Shrek The Musical requires larger than life principal characters (even Lord Farquaad), replication of the tone of the well-loved film, and heavy sprinkling of sass and sparkle to make the show swing.

St Agnes’ Choral Society deliver on most of that, with Fergal White lighting up the swamp with his powerful singing and his ogre attitude. Bláthnaid Scullion is White’s vocal equal as the assertive and demanding Princess Fiona, and the pair rock their way through duets like I Think I Got You Beat and Beautiful Ain’t Always Pretty.

Tony Young confidently hams up his wonderfully diminutive Lord Farquaad, working the audience with every gesture and pause, and creating a really loveable baddie. The choreography that allows him to climb on top of people and knowingly lean back on his short legs is well executed.

While Gingy steals most scenes he appears in (Helen Smyth’s deft turning keeps the focus on the puppet rather than herself), Farquaad’s What's Up, Duloc is the highlight of the first act with its visual gags and energy.

Gareth McGreevy’s Donkey has something of Red Dwarf’s Cat about him, and could push the envelope and be even more over the top, more clingy, and more unhinged. But the ballads with Michelle Hannaway’s Dragon are a roaring success.

Hats off too to the young and teen Fionas (Sophie Lennon and Lucy McNally) and fairytale creatures like Pinocchio (Aideen Fox) and Three Pigs.

While this is technically an amateur show, it’s full of ambition, and achieves remarkably high production values. Compared with choral and operatic society productions in regional theatres ten or more years ago, today’s shows aren’t far off the sophistication and splendour of touring West End productions, justifying the ticket prices!

The smart use of backdrops and lighting minimise delay between most scene changes. The prosthetics and green makeup recreates the memory of the film. A sixteen strong band in the pit provide a firm and brassy musical foundation for the songs.

At times, the Grand Opera House stage soaked up 30–40 actors at a time, all dressed in vivid costumes. I’d love to be able to praise the director, but there’s no information online on the venue or choral society’s websites or social media to acknowledge who pulled together the creative vision for the show. [Update - it was directed by Laura Kerr.]

Other productions of this musical make more of the issues of body image and raging hormones. St Agnes’ play it fairly straight, keeping it fun and light rather than straying off the swamp path into the potentially darker themes.

Shrek the Musical continues at the Grand Opera House until Saturday 19 March. You’ll need to be quick to pick up the last remaining seats. The remaining shows are sold out, though the box office can add your name to a waiting list.

Photo credit: Joe Carberry

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