Sophie Partridge reviews a 'special' one-off 'relaxed performance' of Shrek The Musical at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Staged by Mousetrap Theatre Projects, it is the first show in London's West End designed specifically to cater for families with disabled children.
I was so keen to go to this show that I had been prepared to sit on an auditorium seat on piles of cushions a la Princess and the Pea to see Richard Blackwood as Donkey. Over 500 families attended filling every seat. Sadly, one wheely-user couldn’t make it so luckily I could stay in my chair and forego the multiple-cushion pile-up.
Like the fairytale folk about to be depicted on stage, I had battled my way through: bussed it to the West End, negotiated a complete lack of dropped kerbs with the help of builder blokes and bits of wood! For once though, my access hurdles were shared by the rest of the audience.
It’s a long time since I’ve been to Theatre Royal. Watching all the young disabled people excited about having a good night out reminded me of my special-school trips there. It was enough to nearly set me off blubbing. I spent the next three hours fighting back Happy Tears! Not least because one green ogre may have just inadvertently reclaimed the word SPECIAL...
It began with a chorus of I’m A Believer, after which Donkey and a lad near the front bantered away. Donkey was told in no uncertain terms to “Bring Shrek Out!" Yep. Relaxed. There was a general hub-bub of noise from us all the way through, especially at all the burpy-farty moments. Audience members were free to come and go and I wondered how the performers would deal with this. After perhaps some initial nerves, all was cool and the story unfolded.
My love for Shrek stems from the scene in the film when Princess Fiona, having found true love with Shrek , chooses to remain an ogre. The musical has built on those themes of real beauty, difference, etc. and is in fact, so ‘right on’ that in the scene where the fairytale folk petition King Farquhar against being banished from the Kingdom, "flying the flags for freaks", I had to contain myself from shouting, “I Am Spasticus!”
Farquhar himself, played by an actor entirely on his knees with little legs dangling in front, denies his heritage as a short person. He is outed finally, just as Pinocchio identifies as a puppet, not a Real Boy, and Big Bad Wolf reveals himself to be a cross-dresser in Granny’s gear!
The structure of West End shows means theatres cannot usually accommodate a disabled audience. Hence this dedicated night. The resonance of Shrek’s words, “I don’t have a problem with the world. The world has a problem with me,” were not lost here. “What makes us Special, makes us Strong" sing the Folk to young people who will, rightly or wrongly, have that word 'special' attached to them always.
When the word 'special' is used alongside 'freak' in a positive context however, there’s nothing gooey or sentimental there. Nothing patronising. I feel "just Real, Strong."
I have saved however the best till last. DRAGON!
Now I admit I am puppet-obsessed but she was truly lovely; all pink and sparkly with those long eyelashes. Made of fabric, her manipulation by the puppeteers was spot on and her tail was everywhere!
Visually the production lost nothing by the omission of strobe lighting, etc. I think it’s fair to say we all came away happy folk, judging by the end applause. With Shrek’s anarchic stand for his swamp, we will continue to fly freak flags in a bid not to be banished from our own lands.
Close factories, they may, and cut benefits to our families, they do, and will. But we are more than fairytales. And we won’t go away.