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Review of Shrek (NMTC) at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

Three and a half years ago, in a land far far away, in a world very different to the one we are now in, I saw the touring professional production of Shrek The Musical, it was a mixed bag of quality, tilted extremely heavily in favour of one particular character (not the one you might expect) and not firing on all cylinders much of the time. One and a half years after my last visit to the Derngate theatre, I return to see the homegrown Northampton Musical Theatre Company's own take on the very same show. Would they be able to breathe more life into the show than the professionals did in that distant land?

It is a bit of a yes and no really. Pretty much all of this is done to the best possible standard, and at times, with being an amateur show you could easily forget, they all have normal day jobs.

The show oozes professional quality at times. The set looks magnificent, the costumes (from Molly Limpet's Theatrical Emporium) are superb, and as ever with NMTC, the backstage team create brilliantly swift scene transitions, especially given the obvious time constraints on preparing the show. The dragon (given voice by Lisa Simpson), when she makes an appearance, is visually brilliant and well-controlled, surpassing expectations just there for an amateur production. On top of all those magnificent things is Graham Tear's orchestra, filling the theatre with stunning music from his 15 musicians.

Ian Hammond-Stark is the titular Shrek, and for this, his first performance on the Derngate stage, due to illness, he is confident and assured. Sure he has his moments, with a slightly sticky opening to the second act for instance, but other than those brief moments, he gives a brilliant performance, both in character and an excellent, very strong, singing voice.

Ashleigh Standage is a delightfully abrasive Fiona at times, showing surprising depth to the character, despite this being generally a lightweight piece of fun. The ever-reliable Luke White creates an excellent Donkey, annoying and sweet in equal measure and his scenes with Hammond-Stark's Shrek are suitably sparky.

Perhaps the best character however is Lord Farquaad, whose very appearance springs laughter from the audience, before even uttering a word. Ama Scuotto clearly delights in the role as well, knowing looks, and great comic timing, all while dealing with the devilish fact he is having to perform the show on his knees. I particularly liked his performance of The Ballard of Farquaad. Brilliant.

As ever through with the NMTC shows, the strongest points are often the full company pieces, and this is the case again with Shrek. Routines like Story Of My Life are the very best in the show, and they make the most here of the catchiest of the songs in Shrek, which for the most part are songs by numbers, just taking many influences from other shows. Nothing wrong with that, but it would be nice for the show to have its own identity a little more.

However, it is Shrek, so it never needed to sell itself too hard as a show, it would always pack the theatre on that name alone. The families bring the kids here for a couple of hours of entertainment, and that is what NMTC do with their production, full-on entertainment for families.

The strength of performances create as much energy as they can from the show, and no question that the kids present are entertained from the whole thing and at the end of the day, that is all we all want from a show like this. Shrek is for parents and their children alike, not for a middle-aged reviewer, and you would not be disappointed with a brief visit to this magical land in these challenging times.

A burping, belching feast of fun, with the kids rightfully in mind.
½

Performance reviewed: Wednesday 27th October 2021 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.
Shrek The Musical runs at Royal & Derngate until Saturday 30th October 2021

For further details about the Royal & Derngate see their website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk

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