The QT

Saturday 15 June 2024

Review: Shrek The Musical

Michael Telfer was slightly dismayed when he realised the original Shrek movie was released 20-plus years ago. With the touring production of Shrek The Musical arriving at the Sunderland Empire we sent him along to find out if the story of the ogre and the princess is evergreen
Shrek The Musical is at Sunderland Empire this week

Shrek the movie was released in 2001 and was an instant sensation. Its animation, writing and humour were all highly praised and the film firmly established Dreamworks as a serious rival to Pixar in the new age of computer animation.

The film tells the story of Shrek, an ogre whose life of contented solitude is turned upside down when an evil Lord Farquaad (careful how you pronounce that) exiles all the fairytale creatures from the kingdom of Duloc to the swamp he calls home.

Shrek sets off to Duloc to confront Farquaad and along the way he makes friends with a talking donkey, agrees to rescue a princess from a dragon, and realises that maybe he doesn’t want to spend the rest of his life all on his lonesome.

Brandon Lee Sears, Antony Lawrence and Joanne Clifton star in Shrek The Musical

The musical adaptation tells the same story, but adds a whole new score of original music and songs by Jeanine Tesori and David Lindsay-Abaire to replace the pop hits and oldies that made up the much-loved soundtrack to the film.

The cast in this touring production boast an impressive collection of West End credits between them, and the performances were across-the-board solid. Antony Lawrence plays the lead role and brings the full physicality of the imposing ogre to the stage.

The wisecracking Donkey is played by Brandon Lee Sears, and while he makes a commendable effort to fill Eddie Murphy’s considerable hooves, the dialogue he has to work with doesn’t quite match the film.

Joanne Clifton is absolutely fantastic as the feisty Princess Fiona, and it’s something of a shame that she spends the first half of the show locked in a tower waiting to be rescued.

Former Strictly star Joanne Clifton is fantastic as Princess Fiona

For me, proceedings move up several gears after the interval — once Fiona’s energy and charisma are unleashed and the scenes between Shrek and the Princess are the high point.

They combine hilariously on the possibly low brow but certainly infectiously joyous song I Think I Got You Beat, which sees them lock horns to see who can flatulate and belch the loudest before they combine their efforts in a jubilantly toxic cacophony.

Overall, the music suffers slightly from not having the same familiarity you get on Disney musical adaptations for example. There are no sing along opportunities for younger members of the audience and few of the songs are catchy enough that they will stay in your head much beyond the journey home.

But maybe that was just because I had a head full of snot (I’m thinking the universe was punishing me for not wearing green).

The Sunderland Empire’s famous tower entrance in ogre green for the night

James Gillan is very good as the evil Lord Farquaad and Cherece Richards does a brilliant job playing both the Dragon and the Wicked Witch. Special mention must also go to Georgie Buckland of the ensemble who gives the Gingerbread Man a startling vocal range given his diminutive size.

Shrek The Musical marks the start of another packed year of big shows and musicals at the Sunderland Empire. The famous tower was strikingly lit in green for the occasion and it was great to be back in the venue watching another high quality production.

Shrek the Musical is at the Empire until Saturday, February 10 and tickets are available from the venue’s website.


Gateshead College has four state of the art campuses with an estate totalling 31,000 square metres – that’s double the size of Holy Island in Northumberland.

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