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Shrek, the Musical

by on 13 April 2022

Now I’m a Believer!  

Shrek, the Musical

by Jeanine Tesori,  lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire

TOPS Musical Theatre Company at Hampton Hill Theatre until 16th April

Review by Thea Diamond

It was with a fair degree of scepticism that I approached the opening night of Shrek the Musical.  After having watched DreamWorks quartet of films countless times, as any parents with a Netflix account and time to kill on a rainy weekend can relate to, I was doubting how such integral elements of the story such as the RuPaul’s Drag Race glammed-up dragon in her lava-encased keep would translate onto the stage at Hampton Hill.  Not only this, the completely underwhelming Broadway production that’s available to view for free on YouTube felt like a failed attempt at converting this well-loved progressive fairy tale to the musical theatre format, but with, at times grating, imitations of the celebrity voice cast and the unfortunate loss of its impeccable popular song choices.   

It is a complete understatement to say that I’m now a complete convert after experiencing TOPS’ show stopping production!  I was quite honestly taken aback at the sheer scale and size of this undertaking.  With 47 cast members under the skilful direction of TJ Lloyd, we were swept away by a fast-moving musical and dance extravaganza.  What an achievement to pull this off!  Originally due to premiere just a month before a certain global pandemic struck, a second attempt in 2021, and with third time lucky, I’m not exaggerating to say it’s nothing short of a miracle that all cast members were singing and dancing tonight without anyone succumbing to the most recent wave of Omnicom sweeping the capital. 

The scene was set by the seven-year olds Shrek and Fiona, being abandoned in parallel universes by their rejecting parents, before being treated to the huge musical number Story of my Life with an all-singing-all-dancing array of fairy tale creatures brilliantly choreographed by Becky Silverstein and accompanied by the eleven piece band under the magnificent musical direction of John Davies.  This number truly set the scene for the high standard of stagecraft and production that unfolded before our eyes, and the subsequent numbers performed by the group (Freak Flag, This is Our Story, I’m a Believer) were equally as impressive.  All performances were exceptionally strong with Bethany Dickinson (Pinocchio), Helen Mitchell (Gingy), Susie Williamson (Humpty Dumpty); along with Laura Dulwich (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Laura-Rose Harrison (White Rabbit) particularly standing out with their singing and dancing, respectively.   

The costumes were magnificent, and the level of detail and thought that had gone into them, by the wardrobe trio of Lynn Hume, Lauren Osbourne, Jude Ryan was unbelievable: from Sugar Plum Fairy’s candy floss wig (by Hannah Parsons) with detailed sweets and lollies hidden in its pink and blue whimsical wisps, to Pinocchio’s truly realistic wooden head, legs, arms and nose which magically grew when he claimed to be a real boy.  Other special effects including an exploding bird and massive pink scaled dragon were to come, along with at least twelve or more changes of projected moving back drops, a triumph by Designer Ian Stark, adding to the spectacle.   

From the moment anti-hero Shrek bursts out of his swamp’s smelly outhouse khazi, toilet roll in hand, we are treated to Ben Robert’s portrayal of the marginalised, emotionally wounded, world-hating ogre whose strong physical stage presence and incredible rock opera singing voice (Big Bright Beautiful World, When Words Fail, Build a Wall, Beautiful Ain’t Always Pretty) was transfixing.  Mention must also be made of the equally fantastic make up, by Hannah Parsons and Lidia Hughes-Rodriguez and prosthetics by Rebecca Cawthra that added to the transformation.   

Shrek sets out on a quest to regain the deeds to his swamp home, after it has been taken over as a resettlement facility for the afore mentioned self-identifying ‘freaks’ by the diminutive Lord Farquaad.  He is soon joined by the neurotic, wisecracking donkey, played with relentless high-octane energy by Tyler Fagan, whose portrayal showcases his soulful and smooth voice in numbers such as Don’t Let Me Go and Travel Song, along with his light footed physicality, and loveable emotion filled facial expressions.   

After arriving in Duloc, and another fantastically choreographed and costumed performance by the high kicking ensemble of dancers in their bright blue and red vinyl vintage uniforms and yellow Lego-like hair, we meet Lord Farquaad, the pint sized pantomime villain of the piece, who, with his wardrobe of wonderful costumes, is given much more air time in the musical version than in the film (What’s up Duloc, The Ballard of Farquaad).  TOPS’ newcomer Luke Storey takes on the challenge of donning knee pads and not only walking on his knees throughout the whole show, but even dancing, running and bending down on one (already bent) knee.  He is completely hilarious and true to John Lithgow’s portrayal and it’s hard to believe that Luke has been absent from the stage for over a decade.  The whole audience loved his performance, especially his rendition of the Muffin Man skit whilst torturing poor Gingy, and we can’t wait to see him again in more local shows.   

To complete Lord Farquaad’s vision of a perfect kingdom, he needs to become a King, and this is where the equally emotionally damaged Princess Fiona re-enters the story.  After being incarcerated in the highest room of the tallest tower since childhood, her jaded fantasies of being rescued by her Prince Charming have all but given way to seething anger which she keeps under control by her perfected damsel in distress exterior.  The powerful and moving song I know It’s Today, is beautifully performed by the duo of Young Fiona (Jessica Dryer) and Teen Fiona (Ruby Pollard) before they are joined by Alex Alderson.  Alex’s performance is impeccable.  Her star quality is perfect for this part and her jaw-dropping voice is showcased from this point on in the solo numbers (This is How a Dream Comes True, Morning Person Reprise) and the duos and trios that ensue.   

The characters’ back stories delve into the depths of their wounded psyches, and the actors’ abilities to move from the quick-witted comedy script to the heart wrenching portrayal of these emotions was completely commendable.  The end of Act 1 and beginning of Act 2 has a constant flow of breath-taking songs: Ellie Barrett’s absolutely amazing soulful Dragon (Forever); Shrek, Donkey and Fiona’s powerhouse trio of Who I’d Be; cumulating in Shrek and Fiona competing to outdo each other in the telling of their parentally deprived childhoods (I Think I Got You Beat), that imitates the Four Yorkshiremen’s escalation of collective past miseries.  At the beginning of Act 2 we are also treated to two dance numbers – the nearly thirty strong tap-dancing chorus of the Pied Piper’s (Laura Crowley) rats in top hats and tails.  This was a particularly awesome scene which makes use of the fabulous supporting ensemble, and is closely followed by the suggestive three blind mice with Donkey’s dream sequence (Make a Move) closely parodying the Walrus of Love’s distinctive sound.   

With risk of adding too many spoilers, Shrek and Fiona hilariously bond over a shared farting and burping session and an awkward and romantic evening by the campfire eating S’nothers made of gizzards and mulch, before falling-out over a shared misunderstanding.  For those who don’t know the rest of the story, I won’t give anymore away, but would instead highly recommend you trying your luck at getting your hands on a returned ticket for this sold out production.  The two hours of this West End rivalling performance flew by, and it was clear that the evening was hugely enjoyed by the audience and cast alike, evidenced by the standing ovation and boundless atmosphere radiating from the auditorium …  Now, I can say, I’m a Believer!  

Thea Diamond, April 2022

Photography by Burgess Taylor and Chris Lemon

One Comment
  1. Lesley Simpson permalink

    ‘Twas fab-u-lous!!!!!

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