Shrek has taken something of a resurgence lately. The original was released back in 2001 as a response to the business practices and common tropes employed by Michael Eisner’s Disney, and was also (if I recall correctly) the last film on VHS I ever bought. In that time, it sat in a plastic box with the cover art pressed up against the transparent walls, the now-infamous ‘Dreamworks Face’s staring at me for years upon years. With the post-ironic popularity, the series has developed in the past few years, there was no better time to throw myself into Shrek’s swamp in its live musical form.
Make no mistake that Shrek: The Musical is a big budget show with a lot of talent on board. Some of the musical numbers (99% of it original for the musical, give or take I’m a Believer) and puppetry was beyond fantastic as fantasy can be. So why, as soon as the huge storybook set piece opens up, was I so deeply horrified by the Shrek costume itself? I’ve long been aware of the uncanny stage costume for Shrek, where everything reads as its animated form besides the human face, and I thought I’d be prepared to be subjected to the Nightmare Ogre before the show started – but I simply couldn’t stomach it. I was spooked super easily as a child – there was an animatronic tree in Mothercare that used to make me cry. If I was that age now (and there were a lot of children at Shrek: The Musical) I’m certain I’d never sleep again.
You think this would be part of the in-story idea that Shrek is a horrifying monster, but rather than the Gruffalo, think of Peter Kay’s performance as the Absorbaloff in Doctor Who but somehow scarier. On top of this, the actor playing the titular ogre let a disappointingly reserved performance. I guess Mike Myers set a high bar in the original film with his iconic hammy brogue, but the musical brought to mind a Scottish version of Frank Spencer, which was drowned out almost completely with the scenery chewing of Donkey and Lord Farquaad. By the way, the latter two were inarguably incredible – Farquaad, played by Samuel Holmes, was working overtime in his big acting and moving in such a way that his false legs stayed balanced between convincing and hilarious. Marcus Ayton’s donkey was beautifully flamboyant, taking everything good about pantomime performance and taking it up to its camp zenith, and those two actors really made everything worth it.
With such a sparkling reputation and legacy for Shrek, it seems that all that glitters ain’t gold – and Shrek: The Musical didn’t break the mould. There was also a bit where Shrek dabbed and farted at the same time and it gave me an aneurysm.
Shrek the Musical plays at the Theatre Royal Nottingham until Sunday 23 September.