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An all singing-all dancing musical adaptation of the hit Dreamworks film has arrived in town. Stephen Dunstan took his daughter along – 23 isn’t too old for true family entertainment.

Following the recent storms and incessant rain, the opening night of Shrek the Musical’s extended run at the Winter Gardens was blessed with a calm evening. There was a real festive energy in St John’s Square as lots of young people were gathered both for the hit musical and the Blackpool Music Service Christmas Festival. In both cases an important question would be how entertaining were they for the accompanying ‘grown-ups’. I can only speak for Shrek, but can safely say everybody went home happy.

A common theme of modern fairy tale variants is the content for adults that (hopefully) goes over the heads of younger audience members heads. Shrek the Musical conforms to its filmic origins with a smattering of innuendoes (I know there was a less irreverent book before the film by William Steig, but the film is why most of the audience showed up). There were plenty of other things that probably went over the heads of attending children too, including references to Kafka, being bipolar and the Church of Scientology. The humour for the kids was generally fart gags, but it’s fair to say they went down very well.

The leading roles were taken by Antony Lawrence (Lion King, Mary Poppins) as the eponymous Shrek, and Joanne Clifton (Strictly Come Dancing champion). From this you could probably hazard a guess that the singing and dancing would be of a very high calibre, and you’d be absolutely right. From the main protagonists to the ensemble cast everyone belts out the songs with gusto and the set piece moves are well rehearsed and slick.

Shrek the Musical isn’t a pantomime (oh no it isn’t!) but it offers a different slant on some of the same ground over advent and Christmas.

I felt that a number of the supporting roles punched above their weight. James Gillan’s somewhat camp take on the bad guy Lord Farquhar wasn’t what I expected, but it worked very well. Brandon Lee Sears as Donkey brought the animal characterisation to life in a way not unlike Danny-John Jules as Cat in the sitcom Red Dwarf – a quirky but compelling caricature. The four leads complement each other very well.

Puppetry is a key part of the production. There is a three person operated dragon which is spectacular. But at the slightly less extravagant end of things I was taken by the contribution of the talking Gingerbread Man puppet. His two cameos, one singing and one being tortured on rack(!), were an entertaining side element. The special effects are effective without being over-complex for younger viewers, and include a particularly striking sequence of the previously ‘puppeteered’ dragon.

Musicals generally have two main options – an original score or a collection of hit songs then weaved together into some kind of plot. Shrek the Musical steers the former path, which in my view is more effective in assisting the delivery of an effective storyline, avoiding the problem of somewhat contrived dialogue to line up the next pre-written song. Then after the happy ending there is a feel good rendition of The Monkees I’m A Believer to get everyone standing up, clapping and leaving on a high.

Shrek the Musical isn’t a pantomime (oh no it isn’t!) but it offers a different slant on some of the same ground over advent and Christmas. There is gross-out toilet humour, there are jokes for adults, there is good versus evil and there are an array of characters children will recognise from Pinocchio through the Wicked Witch to the Three Little Pigs. It should keep any family entertained, my daughter is admittedly 23 but she loved it.

Shrek – The Musical is at the Winter Gardens Opera House until 30th December. Get tickets here. View our Listings to find out what else is on in Blackpool over the Christmas period.

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