Five years ago, the Palace Theatre in Manchester was host for an exceptional run of Shrek the Musical. I attended the opening evening then and was so impressed with the transition from big screen to stage that when Shrek was announced for a run at York Grand Opera House under the watch of Nik Briggs, I simply couldn’t resist!
York Stage Musical’s largest production to date saw an entire cast of 36, plus 15 piece orchestra take to (and perform under) the Grand Opera House stage. The whole musical was constructed and directed with perfection – class oozed out of every part of the show from the musical direction of Stephen Hackshaw through to Nik Briggs’ performance as the eponymous character. The two have worked together for several years now and it shows, as the show runs like clockwork and musicians, actors, lights and choreography all work harmoniously for the 2 and a half hour production.
What the Manchester version was lacking five years ago was a real myriad of strengths across the cast and wider supporting crew. York Stage Musical’s performance was the complete opposite to this – the casting was superb and all of the performances, notably Jacqueline Bell’s Fiona, were humorous, full of empathy and heart, and fantastic, note perfect singing. Chris Knight’s (Donkey) display is smooth and the dynamic relationship he has with Nik Brigg’s Shrek is the standout relationship on stage.
Where the show is really brought to life though, is the creativity in both the direction and scripting of Joe Wawrzyniak’s Lord Farquad. Having to work with a range of characters from the lead’s to the fairy tale crew, his performance works seamlessly within and between scenes and whilst I don’t envy long periods where Joe has to crawl around on his knees, his performance is enviable, such is the quality of the acting he displays on the York stage.
We all know the story of Shrek and recently at the Grand Opera we saw Little Miss Sunshine, and at the Theatre Royal, Driving Miss Daisy, two plays that struggled with the adaptation. There was no trouble here though as the story was followed, whilst not too closely, and rather than the songs feeling “thrown in” for no reason, the tracks drove the central story beautifully. Whilst we perhaps don’t feel like we live in a big bright beautiful world right now, for a few hours I, and the audience, were transported to a fairy tale land where we could forget about our own world.
There was a stunning finale which left the audience sad the show was over, but all felt fulfilled. Hearing the words children and adults alike were saying on the way out was lovely, so complimentary and in awe of the show they’d just seen. Beautiful choreography, magnificent music and singing and a range of diverse acting performances all combined and complemented each other in a way many amateur performances can only dream of. Superb.