Sad to say, but Abbey Musical Society’s recent staging of ‘SHREK the Musical’ in Barrow-in-Furness is unlikely to live happily ever after in anyone’s mind – not, I hasten to add, because of any fault with the production, but because of the devastating impact of the Coronavirus. Highly anticipated by all, and with very close to 100% of advance ticket sales, the show managed only one public performance before everything went into lockdown. At the last gasp however, producers Russell Brown and Nick Collinge managed to make a private video recording of the show and I was privileged to be allowed to see it.
Ironically perhaps, the whole production comes across as a truly joyous experience and, had it gone ahead, it would undoubtedly have done much to revive flagging spirits and to re-kindle a much-needed and reassuring sense of optimism that, as the opening song asserts, it really still is A Big Bright Beautiful World.
The high-quality production values of the show clearly indicate that no expense had been spared in putting it all together. The stage settings are complemented for example by a high-definition video wall which brings each scene vividly to life, and also enables a picture book, fairy story-type opening à la Disney. There is also great attention to detail in all the costumes, especially in the host of hard-working fairy tale characters, whose energetic routines are marshalled by the ever-reliable Sarah Powell. It was part of the fun in fact to pick out who was who in their ensemble pieces – there was Tinkerbell, for example, the Big Bad Wolf, the Ugly Duckling, Humpty Dumpty (among many others) and of course Pinocchio with his extendable nose.
Chris Barker and Paul Jones (Shrek and Donkey) are an inspired comedy pairing, with each evidently relishing their role and, even without the energy of a live audience to feed on, both succeeded in giving strong and spirited performances. There are some strong vocal performances too, especially from Poppy Brown, Daisy Brown and Layla Davies as the ‘three’ Princess Fionas, viz. Young, Teen and Adult, and, although not visible, I was also impressed by Melissa Evans who gave voice to the fully animated, all-singing Dragon. Mark Johnson meanwhile did well as the diminutive Lord Farquaad – the obvious effort put into controlling his thin little pins literally bringing him to his knees.
In short this is a delightful, well-staged show that would happily stand alongside any professional production. As I say it is beyond tragic that it was prevented from completing its full run, and both the emotional impact and lost revenue have undoubtedly been experienced as deep but – I’m glad to say - not fatal wounds to all involved. But, on this kind of form, and with the Abbey Society’s solid reputation in the area I’m sure they will rise again. In fact, the good news is that the current plans are for the show to be re-staged in 2022. If that seems like a long time away, believe me it will be well worth the wait.