The Curate’s Egg of this summer’s musicals…
Anyway, following the first film fairly closely, Shrek the ogre goes all BNP as he finds his swamp turned into a refugee camp by a bunch of fairytale characters who have been kicked out of Dulac by the evil Lord Farquaad. Shrek makes a deal with Farquaad, agreeing to rescue Princess Fiona from her tower so that Farquaad can marry her and thus become king. In return, Shrek will get his swamp to himself again. Don’t think Into the Woods. This has far more fart and belching gags.
But first things first. The evening kicks off with a recorded announcement from Julie Andrews (who was in the film) telling the audience to shut up, turn off phones and unwrap their sweeties now. After our last trip to Drury Lane this was a gift from Miss Andrews we were happy to accept. What happened to pre-show announcements? The National introduced them briefly then dropped them again. Why?
Anyhow, the show itself…
A serious crime is committed by Nigel Harman performing a veritable Brink’s-Mat of show-stealing. When he finishes his run he’s clearly going down for a very long time. Except he’s already down there, bringing the house with him. His diminutive, camply evil, Farquaad with short, fake, yellow-stockinged legs (real ones hidden by a cloak), raises the show to an entirely new level every time he appears. Might it seem we were mocking him as we happily stood to ovate? Has anyone ever dispensed so much pleasure and satisfaction from performing for a whole evening on their knees?
The dragon(s) is/are fantastic. The puppeteers handle its first appearance brilliantly and it’s wonderfully voiced by Landi Oshinowo who also plays the other egg on display here, Humpty Dumpty.
The asylum-seekers are rather good, but unlike Shrek, we wanted to see them more often, especially the promising threesomes of Bears and Little Pigs. Jonathan Stewart‘s Pinocchio deserves a special mention not least for making Phil feel less discontented about his own generous schnoz.
It may sound as though our praise is damningly faint if we say that Amanda Holden‘s Princess Fiona was better than expected, but she is. Much better. Specialising in taking over Sutton Foster’s Broadway roles (London’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, but we don’t expect to see her Reno Sweeney in the near future), she’s turns out to be the best singer of the four principals and surprisingly adept at the comedy. Her “Morning Person” number kicks off Act 2 nicely and turns into a very satisfying number with tap dancing rats.
Nigel Lindsay makes an amiable guacamole-tinted Shrek, poor chap, even the Whingers drawing into the depths to find their souls, found a degree of sympathy for him in all the padding and prosthetics. It can’t be comfortable inside all that, especially in the Drury Lane‘s toasty auditorium. Does he even bother taking his makeup off between performances on matinée days?
The songs (music Jeanine Tesori, book and lyrics David Lindsay-Abaire) are serviceable and occasionally witty. Phil is still humming “Morning Person” even though he is anything but. There are quite a few decent gags and references to other shows including Gypsy and Sweet Charity, scattered around, though there are stretches, especially in Act 2, which sag more than Shrek’s belly.
Richard Blackwood has the thankless task of stepping into Eddie Murphy’s donkey shoes but why that means he should stand around looking like an extran Watership Down was unclear. Some donkey physicality wouldn’t come amiss. And for a former stand-up comic Mister Blackwood is surprisingly unfunny. Perhaps it’s all a bid to raise sympathy in the hope that you will give money to one of the many donkey charities advertising in the souvenir brochure.
Taking an aggregate and proving that Phil’s not very proficient with his abacus that makes it…