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March 15 2020, Reviews The David Beach Competition

Shrek, The Musical

CLOC

The Princes Hall

Clevedon

Saturday 14th March

In these horribly worrying times of grey skies, coughs, colds and cancellations CLOC come to the rescue with a big, bright, bouncy show full of colour and fun. Their Shrek, The Musical was a real tonic to gladden the heart.

The story, familiar to most from the Dreamworks film that inspired its creation, tells of an ugly ogre’s journey from swamp-dwelling loneliness, through many an adventure, to finding his own true love. Sent by diminutive baddy Lord Farquaad on a quest to find the lovely Princess Fiona, Shrek, the ogre encounters an array of fairy tale characters, teams up with a talking donkey and even braves a dragon. Throw in a good handful of songs, pleasingly derivative of modern musical theatre styles but admittedly unknown, add striking costume and inventive scenery and ‘the job’s a good-un’: Easy, this business isn’t it? (!)

Rising to the considerable challenge that Shrek presents, the creative team for this production had clearly gone into overdrive. Director, Lynda Prescott and Set Designer/Stage Manager Nigel Berkley delivered fabulous settings for the show. Scene after scene were realised, sometimes simply with the turning of ‘flats’ and the switch of a projected backdrop and sometimes spectacularly with the introduction of a tremendous tower but every scene was attractive, beautifully painted (great work from Barry Heath and Oliver Elson) and lifted the action into a wonderful cartoon-like world. Hats off too to the stage management and scene shifters as each transition was elegantly choreographed, silent, smooth and speedy.

Costume too was most impressive. Sally Staniaszek and Lynne Ruddock must have been ‘burning the midnight oil’ for months to produce the multitude of vibrant garments on display. From the gleaming Guards to the tapping Rats and from the green gorgeousness of the beautiful Princess to the bouncing furriness of the White Rabbit attention to detail was great and the overall result, stunning.

Special effects were particularly pleasing. James Hill and Sally Staniaszek gave us a magnificent Dragon, cleverly operated by puppeteers; Emma Flaherty produced a terrific Gingerbread Man and Craig Bennet’s Bird not only looked good but was very funny indeed.

The orchestra, under the baton of current David Beach Competition winner of Best Musical Director, Sue Parker delivered a powerful sound. I particularly enjoyed the brass: some of those soaring trumpet notes!

Following in the huge footsteps of the very well-known original movie’s lead performers is a huge ‘ask’ for any amateur. A comparison with the originator is difficult to avoid, particularly when a performance is part ‘impersonation’ of that original. When those original performers are world-class stars like Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow, plus they can have as many ‘takes’ as they like in the making of the film, but the amateurs are doing it live- quite a challenge. Well, ask any member of the sell-out audience who they would rather see, and the answer would have been an unequivocal ‘Tom Allen, Adrian Tucker, Mollie Kent and Jamie Shepherd’!

Tom Allen looked great as Shrek: he took us with him on his journey and we all cared about him – not an easy trick to pull off when you are big and green with sticky-out ears; Adrian Tucker worked hard with Donkey and had some good moments; Mollie Kent impressed hugely as the adult Princess Fiona, some fabulous and seemingly effortless singing and lovely, funny characterisation and Jamie Shepherd’s Lord Farquaad was energetic, funny, engaging and brought a very big performance in contrast to his pocket-sized character.

Ensemble and supporting roles were myriad and all were played with energy and evident glee. I particularly remember a few, though all were very watchable; Anna Coleman as the extraordinarily bouncy White Rabbit, Charlie Hockin’s Pinocchio and Graham Chipperfield’s Captain of the Guard and of course, Nadya Callahan’s sensational singing as the Dragon.

Jules Ashton’s choreography worked very well. I was a particular fan of the Rats’ tap routine but movement throughout was easy on the eye, well-pitched in terms of difficulty and well-rehearsed.

So, here is where I tend to ask myself ‘A perfect show?’. Well, I would be dishonest to say ‘yes’: There were moments, like the first full getting together of all of the fairy take folks which felt rather too hectic and loose, there were quite a few issues with vocal characterisation overpowering clarity and quite a degree of ‘pitchiness’ in singing. But so what? Shrek is a huge show, not an easy one and the work, dedication and passion shown by CLOC in delivering a heart-warming, uplifting and above all, fun show trumps any minor niggles.

As always at a CLOC production, but particularly at this one, the sense of joy in performance from all on stage washed over the audience in huge waves. The audience loved it and showed their appreciation in a standing ovation. What more could any society hope for?

Thanks for inviting me

Ian