Theatre review: Shrek the Musical

The cast of Shrek the Musical
The cast of Shrek the Musical
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IF YOU’RE in search of a good family pantomime – one that offers a few hours of fairytale festive fun for both children and adults – then you have a choice of two in Edinburgh’s big professional theatres this Christmas.

Playhouse, Edinburgh ****

There’s the traditional Cinderella at the King’s or, down at the Playhouse, there’s this delicious touring version of the story of Shrek, first seen on screen in 2001, in one of the best-loved animated movies of the century so far.

Shrek, as all his fans know, is a grumpy green ogre with a Scottish accent who lives in a swamp and generally prefers his own company. He’s therefore not your typical fairy-tale prince; and when he sets off with his best friend, a camp talking donkey, to collect a bride for the nasty, short and bossy Lord Farquaad, he soon discovers that Farquaad’s chosen bride, Fiona, is also not quite the conventional, wasp-waisted Disney princess she tries to seem.

Cue a merry and surprisingly romantic subversion of stereotyped assumptions about love and beauty, driven by two fine central performances from Steffan Harri as Shrek and Laura Main (of Call The Midwife) as Fiona.

Shrek is a story full of echoes of other great legends, from the relationship between Lancelot and Guinevere that springs up when he is sent to escort her to King Arthur, to the division between court and forest (or court and swamp) that runs through Shakespeare’s comedies;.

Designer Tim Hatley has brilliant fun with this last distinction, creating a cartoon-style grey castle for Samuel Holmes’s pint-sized and hilariously self-satirising Lord Farquaad, staffed by clone-like marching pages in militant red, white, blue and yellow, while Shrek and Fiona’s world is all soft greens and brown, with leaves twirling everywhere.

Many of the songs – by David Lindsay-Abaire and Jeanine Tesori – are simply hilarious, particularly when Farquaad gets round, with a hi-ho, to confessing his short-arsed parentage; the big numbers seem less self-indulgent and more tightly linked to the narrative than when this show first appeared in Scotland three years ago.

Add a spectacular singing dragon, a dramatic stop-the-wedding final scene, and a heroine who finally finds happiness as a chubby ogress with Shrek ears, and you have a near-perfect panto for our time. It sends up the overmighty, sings and dances up a storm, has plenty of fun; and, in the end, it believes in love – even for those of us who are a touch green, and a little bit overweight.


Until 7 January