Once upon a time there was a blockbuster film based upon a popular children’s book which is now a Shrek-tacular musical that's proving a monster hit at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre.

Yes, a staggering 22 years after the DreamWorks Oscar-winning animated movie was released on the big screen, the tale of Shrek, an embittered ogre, is still as fresh as ever and entertaining a new generation who haven’t even heard of a DVD.

In the film, voiced by Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy, Cameron Diaz and John Lithgow, the witty story of Shrek is simple: ogre meets Princess and they live happily ever after in a swamp.

Well, OK, it might be a little more complicated than that, but the award-winning Broadway and West End hit stage show modernises the animated romcom and makes sure there are plenty of laughs, songs, and dancing along the way.

Just like in the film, the main theme of the plot is abandonment: Shrek is told to ‘go away’ by his parents at the age of seven, Princess Fiona is dispatched to a tower, guarded by a fire-breathing dragon, and even evil Lord Farquaad claims he was left by his father, and not even his super smooth shiny, bobbed hair can quite make up for it.

Great British Life: Donkey, Shrek and Princess Fiona in Shrek The MusicalDonkey, Shrek and Princess Fiona in Shrek The Musical (Image: Marc Brenner)

Fairy tale Creatures

It's this obsession to belong that ties the characters together. It's also why, when his swamp is overrun by fairy tale creatures, including Pinocchio, The Big Bad Wolf (who is hiding more than just a liking for scoffing grannies), and Peter Pan, Shrek agrees to rescue Princess Fiona from the tower for Lord Farquaad in exchange for the keys to his boggy home.

Cue a transformational journey as well as a physical one which sees him joined by Donkey (played brilliantly by Brandon Lee Sears) in his quest to free the Princess.

Shrek (Antony Lawrence) is a superb leading man, keeping his Scottish accent as well as the hyper Donkey on track, and is matched note for note by the Princess, played by Strictly Champion Joanne Clifton (she won the Christmas Special with McFly’s Harry Judd and lifted the glitterball trophy in 2016 with Ore Odub). We only see a glimpse of her dancing skills on stage, but her voice is superb as she delivers a tinkling ballad, Morning Person, while taking on the ogre in I Think I Got You Beat.

The pair showed off their acting chops too, captivating the audience of adults and children with their won’t-admit-even-to-ourselves romance, while the humour was never far away. There were plenty of bottom burp moments to make the kids guffaw while risqué gags – mostly from the very camp Lord Farquaad – soared over their heads to land perfectly with their amused parents.

Great British Life: Lord Farquaad in Shrek The MusicalLord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical (Image: Marc Brenner)

Star Performance

James Gillan’s performance as the undersized ruler with the over-inflated ego was hilarious, and made him the stand-out star of the show, but the entire cast were exceptional, keeping the young ones wide awake well past their bedtime.

Fans of the film will love the iconic torture scene of the Gingerbread Man where he almost breaks while on the rack. ‘No, not the gumdrop buttons,’ he screams, seemingly about to reveal where the fairy tale creatures are hiding.

Cue one of the funniest exchanges on celluloid, and now on stage, with him asking Lord Farquaad: ‘Do you know the Muffin Man?

‘The Muffin Man?’ Lord Farquaad repeats and the interrogation between him and Gingy devolves into a frustrated/terrified twist on the nursery rhyme. He was the undisputed star of the movie, and although he did appear on stage after this as a puppet, he didn’t have a big enough role in the musical. ‘We want more Gingy,’ I wanted to protest.

But other characters stepped up to fill that void. Cherece Richards as the dragon was incredible with a voice that gave me goose bumps. Brandon as loyal, stubborn Donkey, who she falls in love with, can more than keep up with her vocally.

Great British Life: Donkey and Shrek in Shrek The MusicalDonkey and Shrek in Shrek The Musical (Image: Marc Brenner)

Sensitive Ogre

Shrek proved to be the ogre with a giant heart. His poignant performance of ‘Who I’d Rather Be’ showed he was sensitive and emotionally intelligent, even if he does have tubular ears. And in the end, it is he who proves that Oscar Wilde’s saying that ‘it is better to beautiful than to be good’ isn’t true, and that beauty really is only (green) skin deep. It’s what is inside that matters, after all.

The set is stunning – taking us inside a fairy tale story book – the costumes are amazing (the tap dancing spangly rats look gorgeous) and the whole thing ends up in a feel-good rendition of the anthemic I’m A Believer.

There’s a reason the movie won the first ever Academy Award for Best Animated Feature and has been preserved in the Library of Congress's National Film Registry. It’s darned good. So is the Shrek The Musical. And you don’t have to go Far Far Away to see it.

Shrek The Musical is at Eastbourne’s Congress Theatre until Saturday 18 November, 2023, 7pm, from £29 (until Thursday) and from £32 Friday and Saturday. Family Ticket £80 (4 tickets, minimum 1 under 16, available until Thursday, not available to book online). eastbournetheatres.co.uk