Shrek stirs magical musical memories

Tim Williams finds his son has the same sense of awe at a West End show as he had as a boy.

With all the delights on our doorstep it's little wonder us Norfolk folk have something of a reputation for a certain insularity. With so much cultural diversity and natural beauty who really wants to pile into the car and spend weeks on clogged roads for a couple of days away? It'll probably only be raining when we get there anyway.

Who needs Hampton Court – never heard of Holkham? Gin palaces on the Thames? Give me otter-spotting on the Broads any day. You want entertainment? Well, what do you know, we've got the world-famous Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

But just occasionally there's a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that all this sometimes comes at the expense of broadening the old horizons. A drawbridge mentality is just about forgivable in a cynical oaf like me, but perhaps one really ought to try harder for the children.

When I was younger and growing up in the Home Counties, trips to London were a regular part of family life. The museums, the events and, every year, a show.

Ordered to be pressed and starched like a 10-year-old extra from Downton Abbey, me, my sister and parents would troop off to one of the big West End shows. It was, despite the outfit, always memorable. Shaftesbury Avenue lit up is an amazing sight for children. So bright, so busy and all so very late at night.

And while our wretched transport infrastructure – or rather lack of one – means that travelling to most of the country is a huge pain which requires planning of epic proportions, London is relatively straightforward from Norfolk.

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If one is able to negotiate the hideously complex rail ticketing structure, Norwich to Liverpool Street is a relaxing two hours – given a fair wind, no copper thieves and no 'maintenance works'.

Reading about the opening last week of Shrek the Musical at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane, my youngest son and I took the bull by the horns and ventured south for a big adventure in London. Just half an hour after the school bell sounded on Friday we were safely ensconced on the train, me reading the paper, he plugged in to his iPod. And, rest assured, not a costume drama suit and tie between us!

The journey was easy and enlivened by the spectacular sight of the Olympic Park at Stratford. Given the number of tickets going to Sepp Blatter and his pals, this may well be the closest most of us get to the events next year.

As we emerged from the Tube at Covent Garden the excitement in my 12-year-old was approaching boiling point. The four Shrek films form part of the fabric of cultural life for youngsters today, such was their success. The opportunity to see the story translated to a major musical is irresistable for children of all ages.

The show opened on Broadway at the end of 2008 and, via a number of fine-tunings to the performance, had its UK premiere at the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane on June 14.

And it all adds up to a fabulously fun night out. Nigel Harman, of BBC EastEnders fame, excels as the 'baddie' – Lord Farquaad. While Nigel Lindsay's Shrek has a real depth that balances the humour and pathos of the role brilliantly.

Unsurprisingly, Amanda Holden gets a rapturous ovation as Princess Fiona. Those who see her as simply a Britain's Got Talent judge are hopelessly wide of the mark. Her voice is good and her song-and-dance pedigree is clearly visible. Most of the wise-cracking comes courtesy of Richard Blackwood's Donkey in a suitably fizzing and frenetic performance.

The costumes, and the number of changes – the swiftest turnaround is a mere 45 seconds – are out of this world. And the high-flying, all-singing dragon, complete with soul diva voice, has to be seen to be believed. It's fairytale stuff at break-neck speed.

The songs are upbeat and carry you along at a cracking pace, all in all it feels like a musical for the Glee generation. Perfectly pitched for 2011-12.

Exiting into the late night, the crowds and lights prompted the same expressions of awe and excitement in my son as they did in me at that age.

Coupled with a night in the type of four-star hotel of the scale that only the capital can muster, the whole trip reaffirmed my feeling that now and then a little bit of London is great – especially when there are shows as enjoyable as Shrek the Musical to take in.

Go on, lower that drawbridge!


Tim Williams travelled to London with Superbreak, the UK's leading short-break travel company which offers a range of packages that combine overnight accommodation and tickets to the show to suit all tastes and budgets. A package including a one-night stay at the four-star Thistle Marble Arch on a bed and breakfast basis with a ticket to see Shrek The Musical costs from �164 per person on a Friday night in August. Superbreak can also arrange great-value return rail travel as part of a package to London and this is added at the time of booking. A range of other packages are available – telephone for details. To book telephone Superbreak on 0871 2223055 or visit