Four successful films are sufficient credentials to warrant a stage appearance for the swamp-dwelling ogre, Shrek. And it has duly arrived with Nigel Lindsay as Shrek and Richard Blackwood as his side-kick, Donkey.
As you might expect, the colour theme of the show is ... green! For the uninitiated, Shrek's skin is green, hence the choice of colour, or at least I presume that is the rationalisation for it. At the beginning, we're given a glimpse into Shrek's past in a scene where his parents push him out of the house and into the big wide world - and all at the tender age of just 7. I can already hear your "awwwwws". And the same goes for Amanda Holden's Fiona who is duly banished to live isolated in a tower by her parents. The story moves swiftly on to a time when Shrek is living alone in his swamp and a host of characters from nursery rhymes and fairy tales fetch up at the swamp having been banished from their home town by Lord Farquaad. So, Shrek heads off to sort things out with Farquaad and ends up - of course - rescuing Fiona from her tower.
In a way, this is a show with one long-running gag. And that is that Lord Farquaad, though normal in most respects, has teeny-weeny legs. The comic potential is enormous and Nigel Harman doesn't miss many tricks as the little-legged Lord. Surprisingly, the joke doesn't really wear off, largely thanks to the inventive ways in which the legs are used to squeeze out extra laughs, for example by dangling them over the castle Walls.
Richard Blackwood is hampered by having to speak with an American accent following, I assume, the lead set down by Eddie Murphy in the original film. Mr Blackwood doesn't have many funny lines, and not very much to do. Moreover he struggles in the singing department. Nigel Lindsay is the dour ogre who just wants to be left on his own having turned solitude into an art form. Mr Lindsay roars suitably, deodorises with the odour of a skunk and neatly blends cynicism with irony. Nigel Harman is a camp Lord Farquaad with long, limp hair, brightly coloured costumes and, of course, his stumpy little legs which he manipulates with extraordinary dexterity, especially since he must be walking on his knees most of the time.
I don't suppose it would be remotely conceivable to devise a musical version of 'Shrek' without having some wizardry in the effects and gadget departments. So, a bridge rises magically right out of the stage 'before your very eyes', and an enormous dragon whirls around frantically on stage operated by a team of 4. Later, the dragon takes to the air flying over the heads of the audience. There are also tap-dancing rats and a bird explodes in its nest. Jeanine Tesori's songs are hummable and generally very apt, but don't really last very long in memory - well, my memory at least. The choreography is inventive with impressive group arrangements, especially in the scene with the fairy tale characters. There's plenty here to entertain families and, in fact, children of all ages. There are enough adult gags to keep grown-ups amused, and the kids in the audience particularly enjoyed the burping and farting competition between Fiona and Shrek. It's a fun show, but I really felt it peaked too early - somewhere about 15 minutes before the interval - and never really moved on from that level. The rest of the show was still entertaining, but the expectation of something really special coming at the end never materialised.
"Blessed with a likeable mixture of wit and humanity...Shrek sets out to do no more than entertain, and in this it succeeds handsomely...Shrek certainly doesn’t rank among the musical greats, but it offers an engaging couple of hours of family fun"
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
"Sentiment, beauty and haunting melody are absent. But Shrek is energetically amusing."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"Though there's warmth and wit here, it's not a monster hit."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard
"What I love principally about the show, directed with great charm and elating zip by Jason Moore and Rob Ashford, is its delightfully uncynical freshness of spirit. "
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"Although Shrek stems from the 2001 DreamWorks film, it is genuinely theatrical, generous-spirited and mercifully free of the sensory bombardment that afflicts some of its rivals. What it lacks is memorable tunes."
Michael Billington for The Guardian