Review: Shrek. Carlton Operatic. Nottingham Theatre Royal

Shrek production photos courtesy of Martin Holtom.

“I thought love was only true in fairytales…” At least I did before watching Carlton Operatic Society’s Shrek The Musical at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal. Now I know that love happens in subverted fairytales between two ogres, a donkey and a dragon and also in Shrek The Musical audiences because I, along with my fellow theatre goers, love this show.

Originally advertised as Carlton Operatic’s 2020 performance, it’s been in the offing for some time. Carlton Operatic has been unable to perform since 2019, and what a comeback to the Theatre Royal stage! Shrek The Musical tells the tale of the loveable, Scottish Ogre, Shrek, who lives in a swamp…that is until Lord Farquaad decides that all the other fairytale creatures will be moving in. To save his swamp, Shrek sets off an adventure to rescue the princess, but finds unexpected friendship and love along the way. It is to be assumed that the majority of the audience will know, or at least be familiar with the 2001 Dreamworks origin movie, and with something so well known, it is difficult not to make comparisons, but trust me, this adaptation stands side by side with the original and anyone attending will not be disappointed.

With a cast of over 30 (and a word limit), it is nigh on impossible to mention every member of the excellent amateur (really? Are they amateur? It’s very difficult to believe) cast, but we’ll start with Pinocchio (Bara Erhayiem) who takes the lead role with the fairytale ensemble. Erhayiem emulates the voice of Pinocchio from the movie exceptionally well, and wins the hearts of the audiences immediately. His growing nose brings some laughs, and every time he enters the stage, he brings a lightness. Erhayiem is an extremely funny comic actor, who is able to bring some warmth and tenderness when required.

Keeping with the ensemble for a little while, Laura Ellis as Gingy is absolutely spot on. Gingy has attitude and Ellis portrays this really well whilst at the same time being the puppeteer for the character. Again, she emulates the voice of the well-known character much to the amusement of the audience. Ellis, alongside other cast members, Bobbie Gordon, Sian Hooton, Georgia Hodgett-Young, Sarah Millington, Sam Turpin, Bethany Wear, Helen Taylor-White, Emily Hope-Wilkins and Daniella Anderson (alongside Princess Fiona and the Pied Piper played by David Birt) also give the audience the pleasure of a thoroughly enjoyable tap interlude which included a partially raised curtain and rats on their shoes. Brilliant!

Ella Greenwood gives us the voice of Dragon, and wow what a voice. During her main song, “Forever” my companion leaned in and stated that this must be a recording. No one can sing like that…but she is proved wrong in the bows as we meet Dragon’s human form and she belts out her solo. Anderson has a crisp, beautiful tone to her voice – it’s just a shame it wasn’t showcased more, but like the word limit on this review, performances have a time limit! Just a side note regarding the four cast members who took on the puppeteering role for Dragon (Danielle Grrenwood, Cliff Hart, Georgia Hodgett-Young and Amy Rogers-Gee) – this was an excellent effort, especially given the limited time they had to practice. Special mention goes to the cast member who was working Dragon’s mouth (I believe it was Rogers-Gee but I may be wrong about this) – that was some spot on timing. We do notice these little details.

And speaking of little details, Lord Farquaad (Graham Ward) made my cheeks ache with laughter! From his first entrance, he plays up to the audience in a camp and pantomime-esque portrayal that I just adore. Ward spends the majority of the show on his knees which is a feat in itself, but to dance and sing on one’s knees also is excellent commitment. The way Ward adjusts his own body to showcase the movement of Lord Farquaad’s minute stature is hilarious, complete with lifts, leaps and even dismounting a plastic horse. Absolutely hilarious.

In her first Principal role with Carlton Operatic, Charlotte Barrington plays Princess Fiona. With a beautiful singing voice, fabulous tap, wonderful comic timing, and a vulnerability that even shines through her green make up, she is perfectly cast in this role. The harmony between Barrington and her younger selves (Isabelle Griffin and Emily Holder) in “I know it’s today” is lovely and all give heartfelt performances. Barrington is an adaptable actress and goes from classic fairytale princess to sarcastic independence in a heartbeat. Barrington has this character down to a tee.

Donkey (Mark Coffey-Bainbridge) is sure to be a crowd pleaser and he makes Donkey his own character. Rather than a carbon copy of Eddie Murphy’s Donkey, Coffey-Bainbridge’s Donkey is less in your face, more sarcastic and yet retains all of the charm, hope and sarcasm audiences love about him. The eye is often drawn to Donkey to see his reactions to events on the stage, and he never disappoints. A particular highlight is the song “Make a Move” complete with a sexy bassline and sunglasses and the backing of the Three Blind Mice (Bethany Wear, Emily Hope-Wilkins and Rebecca Wilson) who are definitely dressed the part in their Supremes-like golden dresses. Coffey-Bainbridge has excellent interplay with Shrek (Chris Wilson) and while their relationship is often one of bickering, one of my favourite parts is the moment where Shrek helps Donkey over the bridge. It’s an unexpected moment of tenderness between these two characters and caused audible “aawws” from the audience.

Playing Shrek, Wilson has his work cut out for him. He is a beloved character who was brought to life by the talented Mike Myers – it is a difficult role to take on but Wilson absolutely does it justice. He gives us a slightly softer Shrek (with a ferocious roar) but with a real grumpiness. Wilson commands the stage with ease and has a belter of a voice. “Who I’d be” alongside Barrington and Coffey-Bainbridge is particularly wonderful with our ogre Shrek explaining that he’d be a hero. Wilson gives a nuanced performance as he tells us that ogres have layers – Wilson shows us anger, determination, the breaking of barriers, hope and despair, all whilst wearing a green mask. The love story between Shrek and Fiona is completely believable and they are very sweet together, even when trying to outdo each other in “I think I Got You Beat”. The repeated jokes about passing gas never get old (and are particularly enjoyed by the younger members of the audience) and only intensify as our fairytale princess joins in…or should that be farty-tale princess…?

Sound design by Rob Kettridge is fantastic and real compliments the light-hearted feel of the production. The orchestra werabsolutely fantastic under the direction of Chris Rees, who gave an enthusiastic performance of his own. Sitting in the dress circle I was able to look down into the pit, and that was one busy orchestra – the sound balance was perfect and the orchestra lifted the performance to new heights. The choreography by Abby Wells is simple yet effective and the enthusiasm of the cast in the bigger dance scenes was joyous to watch. This is a company who just love what they do, and I bet they are elated to be back on the stage after such a long time. My final words of praise go to Amanda Hall who directed this production. It’s a big show, with some big well-known characters – it’s probably a bit of a risk, but Hall delivers a superb production bringing every element together to entertain and enthral audiences of all ages. Bravo!

As an amateur performer myself, I always enjoy watching amateur productions and feel an immense pride at what we, as a community of performers, can achieve alongside our real world jobs and lives. Amateur performers are not paid, except in applause and the camaraderie backstage. We do it because we love it…and this cast certainly do.

Shrek The Musical” will be letting it’s Freak Flag Fly until Saturday 7 May. If you haven’t already got your ticket, please do. Not only will you be supporting local theatre, but you are guaranteed to have a Shrek-cellent time.

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