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Shrek the Musical. Riverhead Theatre Louth. 08 May 2022

Updated: Apr 8, 2023

Shrek the Musical

Louth Playgoers

Riverhead Theatre


10th – 21st May 2022

If you are going to see Shrek the Musical at the Riverhead Theatre over the next couple of weeks, chances are you already know what you are expecting. The story of the grumpy ogre whose swamp was invaded, started life as a children’s book an found new levels of fame when Dreamworks Animation brought it to the big screen and the blockbuster franchise went nuts spawning sequels and eventually this musical with score by Jeanine Tesori with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire. The show stormed Broadway on the West End and is now finding itself the musical of choice for societies around the UK in 2022. Louth Playgoers believe that they are the first company to bring it to the stage in Lincolnshire. Co-directed by Jamie Harris and Vanessa Allison, Louth’s big musical for 2022 is an absolute treat for the family and should not be missed.

The production looks amazing. The sets are fabulous and the choreography by Nicky Wright of Studio 2000 will put smiles on the faces of its audience and they won’t stop laughing and smiling for quite some time after that show. Musical Director Jacqueline Wilson has ensured that the vocals and band are top notch, and the ensemble are ready to delight audiences for the next two weeks.

Unusually, Shrek the Musical has two principal casts, and I was lucky enough to watch both go through their paces at their final dress rehearsals today. That will make for an interesting review to say the least as I consider the performances of both Ben Gilbert and Gary Starkie as Shrek, Kennedy Gardiner and Natasha Connor sharing the role of Fiona and Derek Smith and Nicola Law both putting their stamp on the role of Donkey. It really won’t matter which cast you see - you will fall in love with the production. It’s no surprise that the creative team felt that they could offer two incredibly strong casts as the talent runs deep throughout the show.

The first performance I watched, saw Gary Starkie, Natasha Connor and Nicola Law performing. They were stunning. Gary has a rich, mellifluous singing voice that is like honey. He handled the comedy (and the Scottish accent) with aplomb and brought a tremendous charm to the role. Shrek’s partner in crime, Donkey, played by Nicola Law was hilarious. She really knows how to entertain the audience and I never thought I would witness a donkey flossing on stage until I saw this show. Her comic timing is superb and her singing voice on Donkey’s solo songs was excellent.

Shrek’s love interest in this incarnation was played by the always excellent Natasha Connor looking very different to the character of Dolores who she played at the Riverhead some years ago in Sister Act. Natasha gives Fiona a spiky edge that is a great take on a character often seen as sweet and light. Here, we still see that sweetness especially in her exchanges with Shrek, but she is a knowing and wise-cracking feisty heroine. She really doesn't need a man to rescue her I suspect.

The trio of performers lead the company brilliantly, setting the tone and raising the bar for each of their fellow cast members to follow. But more on the ensemble later. The chemistry between Starkie and O’Connor is tremendous, and they play off each other so well. And with Law, Starkie creates a double act to die for. This cast are not to be forgotten easily. Shrek may be a reluctant hero, but Starkie definitely plays him as a go-getting hero of the piece to great effect.

Nicola Law as Donkey

In contrast, Ben Gilbert’s Shrek is slightly more pensive and demonstrates more of a sensitive side, He too possesses a wonderfully warm singing voice and epitomises the audience’s expectation of how the ogre should look and act. His performance is wonderfully warm, and the audience will fall in love with Shrek. This is a performance that should not be missed if you can help it.

His Fiona is Kennedy Gardiner, an actress born to play the role of a princess. She is funny and feisty, a great singer and a terrific dancer. Where O’Connor succeeds in playing the comedy and making that an important trait, we see the sweetness of Fiona in Gardiner’s performance, an ingenue with attitude. Both are amazing in the role.

As Donkey, Derek Smith is a ball of energy, and his height really seems to add something to his take on the character who seems akin to the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. He really makes the number with the Three Blind Mice his own in this version. I feel so lucky to have watched both casts bring their work to the stage. I don’t want to single out any of them as individuals because all six provide star turns in their respective roles. It’s worth seeing the show twice to see both sets of actors. You won’t be sorry.

I promised to mention the other cast members and will strive to do so now.

Derek Smith as Donkey

One standout performance though comes in the diminutive shape of Lord Farquaad played by James Clark. How he manages to perform as the stunted Lord baffles belief, he must be in pain, but I thought his comic timing and looks breaking the fourth wall were hilarious, almost reminiscent of Frankie Howerd at times, and that is a compliment. But his singing voice is amazing, and he hits some astonishing notes as he really goes for it in his solo songs.

Another standout for me is Frances Brindle as Pinocchio. Her singing and dancing has never been in doubt from previous shows but here she really cuts loose with a comic performance of epic proportions as the leader of the fairy folk.

The fairy folk astonished me, there I such a range of characters that we all know from storybooks of years gone by. Mark Willoughby as the Wolf who loves cross dressing just a bit too much, Carol Skill, Michelle Browne and Vicki Wright as the Three (German) Little Pigs, Ian Cahill and Melissa Hommel as Mama and Papa Bear, Melissa also gives voice to the Dargon Faith Burton as a perpetually bouncy White Rabbit, Michelle Willoughby channelling Marge Simpson as the Fairy Godmother, Claire Burton as the Wicked Witch, Freya Young as Peter Pan (and The Pied Piper), Jayne Price as the Ugly Duckling, Georgia Pearson as the Sugarplum Fairy and Beth Greetham as Little Red Riding Hood and also providing the voice for a wonderful puppet Gingerbread Man – or Gingy as he is called here, Millie Walmsley as the Shoemaker’s Elf and Sarah Hagerup as the Captain of the Guard. Finally the young performers who pop up throughout the show, Young Shrek played by Isabella Delgado and Maisie Evison were cute and cheeky. Paiseley Featherstone and Halle O’Hare share the role of Fiona in her youngest incarnation, and both share the role of Baby Bear later. Each has strong stage presence and a singing voice and personality to match. The role of Teen Fiona is shared between two very gifted performers in Holly Wright and Eve Greenfield. We will undoubtedly see more of both in years to come.

The action, the laughs and the music come thick and fast throughout this show, and we even see a ten-foot-tall dragon on stage amidst clouds of smoke and singing up a storm. But you really have to see that one for yourselves, I wouldn’t want to spoil the visual surprise for the audience here.

I think its fair to say that I loved this show and I know that audiences are going to join me in loving it too. It is fresh, funny and so, so colourful. It is an absolute visual delight a shout out must go to the backstage helpers who have done an amazing job too. No show of this scale would succeed without an army supporting those in the limelight taking their applause but the efforts of those we never see is witnessed in a stylish and effective production such as this.

Shrek is going to be a tough act to follow at the Riverhead Theatre. There are still tickets available for the opening night on Tuesday 10th. If you don’t have a ticket… rush to buy one you won’t be sorry in the slightest. By the way, did I mention that I loved it?

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