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Shrek: the Musical (Susan Elkin reviews)

Show: Shrek: the Musical

Society: Cambridge Theatre Company

Venue: Great Hall at The Leys, Trumpington Road, Cambridge CB2 7AD

Credits: Music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. Based on the story and characters from the Oscar® winning DreamWorks Animation film.

Shrek: the Musical

4 stars

In the seven years since it was founded Cambridge Theatre Company has emerged as one of the strongest producers of amateur theatre in the country with lots of opportunities, at all levels, for learning, growth and development. This production of Shrek has a strong tradition to build on and, once again, does CTC great credit.

There’s a lot of Shrek about at the moment partly because the rights are available for amateur performance but also because it’s the perfect show for a non-pro company – lots of small cameo roles and plenty of scope for ensemble both children and adults. The tap dancing number with the rats, danced by children and adroitly choreographed by Gabriel Curteis is, for example, a highlight of this production.

It draws audiences, too, because most people know the film. And it’s subtly topical because at base this is a story about diversity, inclusion and the celebration of otherness: issues most of us think a great deal about these days. You can’t fault David Lindsay-Abaire’s witty book and lyrics too as we watch an initially surly ogre, the titular Shrek, and a large cast of fairytale or popular story characters all acting outrageously in character. Colleen McQuillen, for instance, is raucously present as Pinocchio, Damion Box floats about as the White Rabbit  and Gareth Mullan plays the Big Bad Wolf on stiletto-heeled boots.

Frances Sayer is outstanding as Princess Fiona waiting to be rescued in her tower and hiding an unusual (by fairytale standards) secret.  Scott Riley gets all the right Scots ruefulness as Shrek as he gradually falls in love with her and grows less grumpy, kinder and more willing to make friends – Riley gets the sense of change and wonder absolutely right. Mike Webster fizzes with energy as the talkative, tiresome (but observant) donkey who needs a friend – a fine, all singing all dancing performance. Rodger Lloyd is a joy as the ghastly Lord Farquaad, whom no self-respecting princess could possibly fancy, too. He leers, simpers and flips his false short legs around and has the audience in the palm of his hand.

Graham Brown’s eleven piece band, out of sight because the Great Hall has no orchestra pit, makes a pretty good fist of Jeanine Tesori’s wide ranging score although the balance isn’t always right and it occasionally overpowers the singing. I particularly like way Brown brings out the Grieg and Tchaikovsky quotes and gets lots of vibrance into I’m a Believer at the end.

Of course set, costumes and so on are hired in but I have to give the dragon a mention because, puppeted by three people with rods it comes in over the heads of the cast, eyes flashing and mouth working – great fun.

Well done, CTC. Another triumph. Keep up the variety.

First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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