Shrek has arrived in Wolverhampton and judging by the brief look I got backstage tonight it's a tight squeeze! However from my vantage point in the dress circle you'd never know it. Continuing its first national UK and Ireland tour and now onto its second cast the show is displaying no sign of fatigue and is as fresh and fun as the day it opened.
Most of us are familiar with the story of this loveable green ogre banished to a swamp on his seventh birthday destined to live alone for the rest of his days. This is until a myriad of nursery rhyme characters are banished from the Kingdom of Duloc to the very same swamp by the evil Lord Farquaad. Unhappy with this Shrek travels to Duloc to regain his swamp and peaceful life.
Meanwhile, in Castle Duloc, Farquaad discovers from his guard Princess Fiona is trapped in a castle surrounded by hot boiling lava and guarded by a terrible fire-breathing dragon. Seeing an opportunity to finally become King he decides to send someone to rescue Fiona from the castle in order for him to marry her and live happily ever after ruling Duloc together.
On his way to Duloc Shrek meets (a talking) Donkey who befriends the Ogre and travels with him. Upon their arrival and an audience with Farquaad he decides Shrek should rescue Fiona for him in return for getting his swamp back. Littered with musical theatre and fairy-tale references the journey and subsequent discovery of Fiona leads to an unexpected outcome.
This production is full of stars however the four leads shine in this feast of colour and merriment. Dean Chisnall in the title role of Shrek is instantly likeable appearing from a giant story book as the show opens. Idriss Kargbo plays Donkey, Shrek's constant companion, almost like Dick Whittington has his cat.
Bronté Barbé takes on the role of love interest Fiona. Barbé is a feistier Fiona than her predecessor on the tour Faye Brookes, and as a result gives the role more depth and comedic value. When it comes to comedic values however, Gerard Carey playing Farquaad steals the show. Some two foot shorter than almost everyone on the stage his dancing and all round movement on the stage brought fits of giggles from adult and child alike.
Throughout the run in Wolverhampton, as in every venue the roles of Young Shrek, Young Fiona and Dwarf are shared by local young talent. Here these are Megan Doyle*, Lauren Hodson, Ella Palmer and Phoebe Sennett*, two of which last night proved there is no shortage of young talent in the area.
With a set to match any West End production you are never sort of something to marvel at incorporating some very clever visual effects. As I mentioned earlier, just quite how they managed to fit it into the Grand I'm not quite sure. Staging wise the most eye catching moment was the arrival of the fire-breathing Dragon. Voiced tonight by Christina Modestou it filled the entire stage and you could see kids all around the auditorium with their jaws on the floor such was its impact.
Add to this a faultless West End sized 12-piece orchestra under the direction of Dave Rose and here you have a show with as big a heart as it has staging. From curtain up to the rousing finale you can't help be transfixed and swept along throughout. In the words of the final song, I'm a Believer!
Shrek the Musical continues at the Wolverhampton Grand until the 11th October and the UK and Ireland tour continues until February 2016 with its final being Salford’s Lowry.
Reviewer: Paul Downham
Reviewed: 1st October 2015