Lord Farquaad dances with the people of Duloc in Shrek the Musical

Theatre Review | Shrek the Musical – Mayflower Theatre, Southampton

The world’s favourite big green ogre has swapped the screen for the stage, and now he’s touring the UK and trading Duloc for Southampton!

Shrek the Musical turns the mixed-up, topsy-turvy fairytale into an all-singing, all dancing musical comedy, with all our favourite characters, jokes, and storylines. I love the film and can easily quote along (much to my family’s dismay), so I was really excited to see how this translated onto the stage.

Having heard good things, I had high hopes and settled down to watch the show with my friend Lissie, who is probably the biggest Shrek fan I know.

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The plot basically follows the storyline of the first film, with Shrek rescuing the highly strung Princess Fiona from her tower and delivering her to her husband-to-be, the less-than-charming Lord Farquaad.

All of our favourite characters are there; Donkey, Pinocchio (complete with growing nose!), the three pigs, and even Thelonius – Lord Fraquaad’s hooded sidekick. Gingy makes his infamous appearance on the torture table along with his gumdrop buttons, too.

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It became clear quite early on – from the very opening scene – that the story would not follow the plot exactly, which is understandable but a little odd too. It was a strange mixture of taking scenes and lines directly from the film, and adding completely new elements or tweaking well-known phrases. It seemed to be trying hard to remove itself from the film, while saving certain bits to keep the familiarity there, which was slightly distracting, especially for those of us who know the film inside out! But I do understand it has to stand out on its own.

The familiar scenes, however, were played out really well, and the cast was very, very talented. Steffan Harri as Shrek was highly entertaining and had a fantastic singing voice (though he was a little too jolly and not angry enough for my liking!) and Laura Main as Fiona was the anxious, fiery princess we all expected!

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However, Samuel Holmes as Lord Farquadd stole the show for me. I love a villain and he played the part perfectly; the ideal combination of witty and devilish. He really was hilarious (I won’t give away too much, but his short stature was cleverly done and he really played up to it – for want of a better phrase!).

Marcus Ayton as Donkey was also a joy. Though his character was much sassier and more camp than the Donkey we’ve grown to love on our screens, he was cheeky and charming and really shone when it was his moment.

The costumes were fantastically fun and bright, and the staging, in general, impressed me; each scene transitioned smoothly and the dragon was incredible too.

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Though the singing was brilliant – as I said, a very skilled cast! – I sadly can’t remember any of the songs, which is a shame as an addictive soundtrack, I think, is the mark of a good musical. Thankfully, they kept in the favourites, including Welcome To Duloc, but otherwise, I personally didn’t find them catchy.

However, I do remember really enjoying certain numbers; in particular What’s Up, Duloc? had me laughing hard, and Make a Move and The Ballad of Farquaad were a great example of witty writing and clever storytelling. It was enjoyable and good fun, but not as memorable as other shows I’ve seen.

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Shrek for me was more of a spectacular pantomime than a stellar musical. It is probably hard for the subject matter – fairytales and magic – to dissociate itself from the calls of  ‘oh no it isn’t…oh yes it is!’ in panto season. Add to this jokes about current affairs (a horse called Brexit), magical lighting, toilet humour and a sing-a-long at the end, and you have yourself the perfect panto!

Another element that made it more like a pantomime? The adult jokes. Lord Farquaad was a great example of this, being brilliantly witty and dry with a penchant for innuendo that beautifully passes the kids by while entertaining the adults. The physical comedy was great too; Farquaad’s short stature and the slapstick nature of his costume, and the farting that delighted the youngest audience members are both great examples.

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There were a few things that left me very slightly uncomfortable, I’ll admit. Princess Fiona lightly branding herself ‘bipolar’ for being a little moody did not sit well with me; and the song Freak Flag, though having a lovely message (and a clever homage to Les Mis!) was also a little strange despite celebrating ‘uniqueness’.

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I will admit I wasn’t personally blown away by this show; if you are a devoted fan of the film, don’t expect it to follow the plot exactly, and if you are a musical connoisseur it may not be complex enough for you.

But, if you are looking for a fun night out, a show to watch as a family, or everything a panto offers at any time of year, then Shrek is the musical for you! It’s feel-good entertainment and bound to be a hit with the kids and adults alike!

Shrek the Musical is on at Southampton’s Mayflower until Saturday 8th December.

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I was invited to review this performance, but as always all views are honest and completely my own.

Imagery courtesy of Mayflower Theatre.

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