Review: ‘Shrek: The Musical’ @ Theatre Royal

On 17th September, I did two things: saw a brilliant musical, and finally saw one while it still had its original leading lady in it. And on both counts, this was a fantastic production.

The plot and dialogue followed the film quite closely, but this was not unwelcome. Too much of a change would have harmed what

people already enjoyed about ‘Shrek’, and a carbon copy would have simply made people wonder why they spent good money when they could watch the film at home. No, it was a really good balance, bar one or two of the jokes being a little lacklustre compared to the film (but then, I’m not entirely sure anyone could echo the brilliance of Eddie Murphy), that allowed the musical to flourish in its own right.

What I particularly enjoyed was how the musical was tied together: to combat the limitations of stage, Lord Farquad’s back story (which I won’t give away!) was a perfect substitute for the dragon’s role in the fiery finale, putting Shrek on top and Farquad…down low (see what I did there?).

Talking of Farquad, Nigel Harman…just wow. He was absolutely the star of the show, his voice is incredible and his performance was absolutely hilarious. I did wonder how they would deal with the height issue, and the poor guy’s knees must have been in agony by the end of the performance, but I absolutely adored that they mocked their own theatricality: some of the highlights involved Nigel Harman swinging his fake legs about, it was borderline slapstick and absolutely hilarious.

The theatrical techniques were not all based on laughs: the dragon was stunning. It was another question at the back of my mind: how on earth will a dragon feature on stage?! But my oh my, did it feature, and it was spectacular. At one point, the monstrous piece of craftwork came out from the ceiling right above our heads without us noticing, flying about the place and keeping the audience in raptures. This was one production that had considered every detail and you could see every effort had been put into ensuring the audience had a magical evening. And the voice of the dragon…she was definitely the best singer of the night. The set of lungs on that woman deserved a central role, not a smaller part, and I really hope that happens for her someday.

In fact, all of the supporting roles were fabulous, as proved in the song led by Pinocchio and co. They clearly put their heart and soul into their characters, and it made the story come alive in a truly unique way.

Now, onto the leading lady herself: I don’t know what I really expected from Amanda Holden. I certainly didn’t realise she was that pregnant, although I’m sure it helped for the ogre scenes! In all seriousness, I had never pegged Miss Holden as that¬†funny, that talented and that loveable. I loved her before and I think she’s a bigger star now. Sure, it’s not the best voice in musical showbusiness, but it was pretty damn good, and her Fiona definitely sparkled. She was kickass, and able to draw a tear at the same time. Her accent was consistent as well, which was a major positive: nothing is worse than a badly implemented accent, it brings so much attention to it being a constructed piece of theatre. As it was, Holden and her co-stars made the story thoroughly absorbing by being committed to their roles, and ensuring that they gave every moment one-hundred-and-ten percent.

Shrek himself, Nigel Lindsay, was good: not overly amazing, but he played a good role, and was thoroughly loveable in his development from angry ogre to unlikely prince. With the Scottish accent, I didn’t expect amazing singing, but Lindsay was surprisingly fabulous; the only thing that hindered him was not living up to some of the precedent laid down by Mike Myers in ‘Shrek’. I felt this was the same for Richard Blackwood as Donkey: he was great to watch, but at the same time he didn’t quite live up to Eddie Murphy, but then I think these were the areas where more script changes should have happened to prevent an over-reliance on the film precedent. However, I definitely cannot criticise their overall performances, because without these two being amazing the musical would have fallen out of the sky and onto its face…much like Donkey’s entrance!

It must have been so difficult to translate a film to the stage, but ‘Shrek: The Musical’ definitely did it well: the attention to detail, the sheer enjoyment shown by the cast, and the willingness to poke fun at its own theatricality meant ‘Shrek’ was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Also good to note: the view from the cheap seats is pretty panoramic, so I definitely wouldn’t knock them, unlike some other theatres! The evening was absolutely Shrek-tacular, and I would definitely go green again in the future!

Review: ‘About a Boy’ by Nick Hornby

Nicolas Hoult and Hugh Grant in the film adaptation.

Having finally read the book, I can safely say that the film version of ‘About a Boy’ got it spot on: it relates Nick Hornby’s tale of growing up perfectly.

The story is simple enough: Will is thirty-six, Marcus is twelve, and yet the latter is infinitely more adult than the former. Whilst simultaneously learning to grow-up and act their age, Will and Marcus explore issues that monopolise everyone’s lives: from learning that your parents are fallible to finding the special someone who likes you for you.

Hornby’s success comes in his language: he doesn’t try to explain everything – Fiona is depressed, we don’t know why; Will is aimless, yet there’s no reason for his lack of orientation. In fact, the only thing that truly makes sense, ironically, is Marcus: he is defined by the his surroundings – his mother and her eccentricities, his father walking away too quickly, his friends abandoning him to enjoy a bully-free existence…Despite how odd he appears, Marcus is the only character who can be fully explained. This lends legitimacy to Will and Fiona’s stories. They are able to come to their own realisations because Marcus needs them to react to him without him explicitly saying so. The shoes incident is a major example of this – Will can only realise that life isn’t as simple as wearing the right outfits by Marcus being vulnerable, and likewise Fiona can only realise Marcus’ needs when she feels like she’s losing him. It’s more what Marcus leaves unsaid than what he verbalises that enables the characters around him to finally step out of their own bubbles.

The sidestepping of the over-psychological analysis of everything feels like Hornby is stating that life isn’t always definable. By treating Fiona’s suicide as an unspoken threat, and Will’s relationship with Rachel as something that happened as opposed to over-analysing why it happened, Hornby is able to show his readers that life happens whether we like it or not, and that it is up to us to mould ourselves around these events. Telling the story from Will and Marcus’ viewpoints helps to achieve this – the two people who think least are forced to think, which creates intensity within the sometimes minimalistic information we are provided with. For instance, Fiona’s suicide is seen by Marcus as the culmination of Dead Duck Day, and by Will as an oddity occurring outside of his sphere of interest, therefore when it comes to it, both have to extend themselves to understand and cope with such events. Will’s later relationship also shows his inability to verbalise his comprehension of an alien subject – Hornby could undoubtedly talk too much about this, and fully explore the feelings and emotion of each character, but the reader is left with just enough information to think for themselves – after all, isn’t self-expansion the point of the story?

‘About a Boy’ started off, to me, as a simplistic read, but ended up being more intense than I imagined it could be: by using the two central characters with a limited view of life, Nick Hornby is able to expand both their and our horizons. One of the most poignant moments that spelled this out to me was when Rachel told us why she could never just give up on life: it would be awful to miss out.