Shrek the Musical (CSODS, 1 June 2022)
I’m not a fan of the word ‘amateur’ when it comes to productions, you see it written on the posters, “this amateur production of such and such is licensed by Concord Theatricals”, and then you get that awful term ‘am-dram’, which to me invokes images of a bunch of mates larking about on stage at a community centre with cardboard props and threadbare costumes for the benefit of their family and friends. It’s only a word and perhaps it speaks more about my brittle pride, but to me, the word amateur simply refers to the fact that those in the production are hobbyists if you will, and in many cases those that haven’t sought to pursue a professional career, but it doesn’t always make them any less a performer.
Besides which, there is such a potential chasm in the quality of so-called amateur productions, and what I saw at the Cromer Pavilion Theatre served to highlight that. Apart from the restrictions of the stage they were performing on, everything about the show was professional quality, even down to the standard of the programmes that they produced.
But let’s get more specific, shall we. We’ll start with the four lead roles, Shrek, Fiona, Donkey, and Lord Farquaad. Joseph Betts as Shrek was excellent. Knowing him personally, and his personality, I think the parts where Shrek was a bit grumpier were a bit of a struggle for him, but he showed Shrek’s softer side brilliantly, and the very least I’d expect from Joseph is a brilliant comic performance, and he didn’t disappoint. His vocals were great too, and most impressive was his ability to sing in a convincing Scottish accent without it sounding like a send-up, and it really showed his skill as an actor and singer.
Dan Smith as Donkey was the crowd pleaser, and favourite of the kids watching, and rightly so as he stepped into what would have been quite a daunting role but pulled it off in style. He’s clearly a great physical actor, with an instinctive sense for comedy, which made him a lot of fun to watch, but his vocals were outstanding too.
Adam Wengrow as the vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad had the hardest part physically, and I feel for Adam’s knees, but every time he appeared on stage he made it hilarious. He perhaps could have made more of being a baddy, as he wasn’t as much of a villain compared to the film version, but I guess given how they made him only three feet tall with his ridiculous prop legs meant that he was always going to be more of a comedy character in the stage production. Adam clearly is an excellent comedy actor though, and his vocals were decent too.
I’ve deliberately left Fiona until last, as I particularly wanted to highlight Emmie Wright’s incredible performance. I’ve only come across Emmie once in the past, when she played Cass in Made in Dagenham, and although it was a decent part, it didn’t really give the chance to shine, certainly not like it did in her turn as Princess Fiona. Emmie’s vocals were just exceptional, from the sickly sweet soft stuff at the beginning to the full-on belters later on, she absolutely nailed it throughout, and I was blown away. But there was much more to her performance than just a great set of pipes, and she also showed her skill as a comic actor too, gave us a glimpse of her tap-dancing ability, and obviously uninhibited by a mask and make-up as Shrek was, she used her facial expressions to maximum effect. It was an absolutely perfect performance.
I’ll come round to the production in general, but a few special mentions first. The actors performing as the tap-dancing rats were one of my highlights. This was a well-drilled and funny routine, and there wasn’t a foot out of place, so well done to them all. There was also an excellent vocal performance from Laura Marvell-James as Mama Ogre at the very beginning, and then at the end, Charlotte Drewell as Gingy absolutely tore the roof off the place with her sublime vocals. It was a slight shame we didn’t get to hear more of her, but it was definitely worth the wait.
Now the production is geared largely towards children, with a smattering of humour that adults and big kids like myself can enjoy, as was the case with the Dreamworks film. The stage production hovers the line between pantomime and musical, and it was clear the Director was keen for it not to be seen as pantomime, as the actors didn’t indulge in playing to the crowd, despite some obvious moments where it would have been tempting. For what it’s worth, I think that was the right choice, as the show relied on momentum to guide us through various settings, and there was a lot of material to work through. The group made excellent use of very high quality projection screens, which cut out the need for what would have been some unwieldy set pieces, and added a smooth and professional dynamic to the production. The dragon puppet was used well but also quite sparingly, which given the tight space on stage was a relief as I think it had probably the potential to make things look a little messy.
Costumes were all superb, the 12 piece band were excellent without being overpowering, and the sound didn’t falter once, which given the number of mics needed was an absolute miracle.
The show was a triumph, and yes, I’ve focused quite heavily on the cast, but to a certain extent, who you have available to cast in a show is sometimes down to luck and timing. However, the production values which were extremely high, are all down to the production team, and they should be very proud of what they’ve achieved.