REVIEW: Shrek the Musical @ Sunderland Empire

Posted on February 2nd 2018 by Whats on Northeast

Review by Andrew Bramfitt –

A giant ogre, a talking donkey, a magical princess, a tiny Lord and a fire breathing dragon – all quite feasible characters for an animated movie but surely a challenge to portray as a live stage musical – or so you’d think, but under the expert direction of Nigel Harman (and aided in no small way by the brilliant cast and choreography) Shrek the Musical is a modern day masterpiece to rival anything currently on show.

Drawing heavily from the Dreamworks animated movie made famous by the vocal talents of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz, this non-stop extravaganza concentrates the essence and humour of the CGI film whilst introducing new songs and some amazing costumes for which Tim Hatley should be lauded and applauded.

Right from the opening scene, the storybook backstory of how a young Shrek befell his swamp life, the whole show has a larger than life feel as though the audience are being immersed into a true fairy tale. Brilliant set design, the multitude of additional characters and the very clever little details mean there is so much to watch; in fact the interval conversation was peppered with “I didn’t see that, I was watching ….”

The main factor that made the original movie such a must for repeat viewing was the subtle (and not so subtle) pastiches, homages or just plain ‘steals’ from multiple genres – spotting the digs at Disney, the role reversal of children’s stories or the twist on expected norms meant adults could also laugh while the kids hollered at the ‘rude’ jokes and naughty behaviours.  This show has taken that premise and, in keeping for a stage musical, took a mischievous aim at many of the most popular musicals – as such you can find nods to Wicked, Rent, Matilda, Spamalot, Bob Fosse, Avenue Q, Rocky Horror, Blood Brothers and I’m sure many more.  For a fan of the theatre, this is like playing Musicals Bingo, write out a list and tick them off as you find them.

The main cast are all fabulous; Steffan Harri (Shrek) seems to tower over the other fairyland creatures in presence yet never loses his soft side whilst Samuel Holmes (Lord Farquaad) is hilarious as the diminutive ruler with a desire to be considered large (his dance routines should come with a health warning of split sides and inability to breath due to laughing).  Marcus Ayton (Donkey) has all the style, soul and street of a cross between James Brown and Jay Z but I think it was Laura Main (possibly best known for Call the Midwife) who gives Princess Fiona some real umpf – she is sassy, alluring and totally bonkers, laugh out loud funny and not afraid to bend her leg and let us know she can ‘Shrek’ it with the best (oh and boy can she sing)

The show has a feel of a pantomime in that it is super friendly, instantly recognisable, enthralling and entertaining through every minute (and provoking a theatre full of kids laughter),  but this is no corny ‘he’s behind you’ fare, this is musical theatre at it’s very best and packed with moments of genuine hilarity.

Even though it’s only February, I’d say this will be THE show you will still be talking about come the end of the year and most certainly the one you’ll want to go and watch again and again


“It was brilliant, best show I’ve seen in ages, I’d also like to say how lovely the hospitality was at the Empire”

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