Review: Shrek the Musical

By Will Dixon

TCMS has a reputation for being ambitious with its shows, putting on big-cast, big-band Broadway shows in a challenging college setting. This time, they pulled it off spectacularly well. The musical in question, Shrek the Musical, premiered on Broadway in 2008, and will be familiar to anyone familiar with the 2001 DreamWorks film – a show satirising a traditional Disney fairytale story. Many people from the Durham comedic theatre cabal turned up to be involved with the show, with cast members coming over from Ooook’s Feet of Clay and Spongebob: The Musical from earlier in the year.

The Director, Rachel Wilkinson did an incredible job translating the script to the stage, the use of topical humour in referencing Jimmy’s and Klute got some laughs from the audience. The talents of your cast were well utilised, down to the way that the cast entered and exited the stage. Anna Woolaghan as Choreographer took the constraints of a small stage and a large cast and ran with it. With musical theatre, choreographers have to teach dances both to pros and to cast members who are more specialised with acting and singing. Everyone performed to a high, uniform standard, and it looked incredibly well thought out and well-rehearsed.

The band blew me away. Going in, I was surprised to see that the Musical Director, Oli Matthews had managed to assemble a full band for a college show. I understand that as the band gets larger, the opportunity to practice both together and with your cast becomes limited, so when I listened on the show’s closing night, I was blown away with the quality and professionalism of what you managed to put out. Playing out the show to the classic ‘I’m a believer’ was a particular highlight.

Everyone performed to a high, uniform standard, and it looked incredibly well thought out and well-rehearsed.

Another area I was sceptical of going in was costumes. Grace Hannaford did an amazing job, on what I assume was a tight budget, given a really challenging brief; as the audience comes into the theatre with a preconceived idea of what the characters look like, such as Shrek’s signature tunic and brown jacket and Lord Farquaad’s red regalia. As soon as Shrek walked on stage wearing his signature costume, I knew we were in very talented hands. In addition, costumes had to be created for each of the fairytale characters. That challenge was met and exceeded. Lord Farquaad’s tiny legs were hilarious and got laughs at multiple points. Donkey’s tote-bag and cup were particularly nice, detailed props from Martha Schaefer. The makeup was fantastic, Shrek’s face makeup was on point, and the two quick turnarounds needed by Fiona were pulled off deftly.

The intimacy and non-theatre setting makes sets tricky. The backgrounds were very versatile and worked in all scenes. The main piece of set, with its interchangeable front plates used the space and dealt with constraints practically – even the stagehand managed to get a few laughs! 

The main character, Shrek was performed fantastically by Eli Fuller, who nailed the Mike Myers’ Scottish accent of the film. Fuller appeared extremely comfortable on the stage, with a bold presence, from entering stage to delivering lines. Sometimes cast members struggle to immerse themselves into more comedic roles – Fuller did not succumb to the tendency for people to overact in comedies – instead, they embodied the character and trusted the delivery of the script to get the laughs.

Donkey, played by Emily Power was beset by some technical issues with some of the numbers in the first half, which was a shame. However, Donkey is a character that relies on body language, gesture and delivery rather than the lines themselves, so this didn’t matter as much, with the audience still laughing plenty at the way Power held herself on stage. She got across the chaos of the character, whilst also dynamically performing the role in the script of pulling together the other main characters on stage with fantastic chemistry. 

the audience comes into the theatre with a preconceived idea of what the characters look like, such as Shrek’s signature tunic and brown jacket and Lord Farquaad’s red regalia

Maddy Daly understood the role of Fiona perfectly. In the script, the role adds an emotional depth that is otherwise missing from a thin, joke-based plot. Daly dealt with this role deftly in two pivotal scenes – the falling-out scene, and wedding scene – adding drama and giving the audience an emotional stake, which created the tension needed to carry the plot forward. As one of the main singing characters, Daly aced it with an amazing singing voice, as well as some tight makeup changes.

I have had the pleasure of seeing Oggy Grieves as a comedic villain before, in Feet of Clay. Grieves was a perfect casting choice for Lord Farquaad, as his relationship to the audience is extremely important – in the show I saw, Grieves was the audience favourite, with a lot of laughs coming off-script from the way that they embodied the role, and their presence on stage. I could not help feeling sorry for Lord Farquaad’s knees as he shuffled around the stage on them for three nights in a row.

Out of the Fairytale characters, the Gingerbread man stuck out to me, and made me laugh more than anyone else in the show. Played by Eliza Davis, who managed to instil Farquaad’s pivotal-to-the-plot Napoleon complex early in the show in a very funny way. The vocal impression of Davis’ character, alongside Moritz Ashfaq’s as Pinocchio was spot on, and hilarious in of itself.  

My main gripe with the show was that the tech team was too small for the scale of the show, it needed to have separate people on sound for band and cast, as well as a dedicated lighting programmer. I know how challenging college theatre tech is, especially when you are teching shows in a less-than-ideal settings, which was exacerbated by the scale of the cast and the band. The lighting was perfectly functional, and did not distract from the show, however, there was a missed opportunity to use it more creatively. Instead of basic washes, using some gobos, gels, or some moving heads, could have added to certain scenes. For instance, in the scene where Donkey first meets the dragon, to falling in love with her, the contrast could have been highlighted with the contrast between fiery and mellow hues.

Most importantly, however, everyone looked like they were having fun. This was certainly the best show of TCMS that I have seen. Well done.

Image credit: Thomas Rainford/TCMS

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