JOYCE MCMILLAN on SHREK THE MUSICAL at His Majesty’s theatre, Aberdeen, for The Scotsman 26.1.15. ________________________________________________________
4 stars ****
THE PANTOMIME season is over; but if you’re still in the market for some good-looking, fairytale family fun, then you’ll be delighted to hear that for Scotland’s big main-stage theatres, 2015 is the year of Shrek. Presented in the UK by no fewer than 11 producing companies led by Dreamworks Theatricals, Shrek The Musical plays in Aberdeen for the next two weeks, in Glasgow in April and May, and in Edinburgh in October and November. And if the delighted response of the Aberdeen audience is any guide, this clever and good-humoured stage version of the smash-hit 2001 animated film will become one of the must-see family shows of the year, as Shrek-ears headbands and green face-paint spread across the country; at His Majesty’s, they’re even offering delicious Swamp Juice cocktails in the interval.
As film-to-stage musicals go, Shrek occupies a slightly awkward position between the stronger aspects of William Steig’s original story – a witty, counter-cultural response to the Disney idea that heroes and heroines always have to be beautiful, royal and wasp-waisted – and the tendency of the film, and the show, to become distracted by exactly the kind of cheesy showbiz values the story is trying to satirise. The hero, Shrek, is an ugly green ogre who prefers his own company. The heroine, Fiona, is a beautiful princess who is not quite what she seems, and whose happy ending involves becoming a contented ogress; and in this touring version of the London production, Dean Chisnall and Faye Brookes make a delightful pair in the leading roles, funny, clever, self-deprecating, and touchingly well suited to each other.
Yet for all its gently subversive plot-line, Shrek often comes across as a musical less interested in its own story than in long song-and-dance numbers, and camp showbiz in-jokes; indeed, it barely bothers to explain Fiona’s transformation at all, when she first appears as an ogress. The stage version replaces the standard pop hits of the film score with all-new songs, apart from a final chorus of the show’s anthem, I’m A Believer. Yet while some of the songs are touching, and some very witty, almost every one is at least a verse too long; and the long, self-conscious musical numbers featuring the Disney-style fairytale characters exiled to Shrek’s swamp verge on the tedious.
In the end, though, none of these flaws spoils the fun, in a conspicuously good-looking show illuminated by two strong central performances. In Tim Hatley’s design, the castle of the short-arsed villain, Farquaad, is brilliant evoked in authoritarian red, yellow and blue, while Shrek and Fiona move through a natural world of leafy green and soft browns; the choreography is brisk and witty, local youngsters put in delightful appearances as the young Shrek and Fiona, and the ensemble work of the 17-strong cast is unfailingly impressive and versatile. And in Faye Brookes’s lovely performance, the cheerfully self-aware Fiona makes so much better a female role model than the average Disney princess than it’s impossible for any girl not to take this good-natured show to her heart; whether she’s aged six or ninety-six, or – like Fiona – almost 30, and still waiting for her prince to appear, in however unlikely a form.
His Majesty’s Aberdeen, until 8 February; King’s Theatre, Glasgow, 29 April-23 May; Edinburgh Playhouse, 20 October-8 November.