The folks at Western Arts Theatre are gearing up this week to present Shrek, the well-loved fairytale of an ogre who rescues a princess, aided by a talkative donkey. Director Meg Warren draw upon her childhood stories when it came to staging the production. “I’ve always loved fairytales because of the way the provoke imagination”, reflects Warren. “I was inspired by all my memories of what I thought it would be like to be in those fairytales with their colour and texture. Inspiration also came from the original animated movie of Shrek because I feel that if people are coming to see Shrek on stage, there are certain elements they are definitely going to want to experience”.
Warren saw the 2001 movie when it was first released and was struck at the time by its potential to make a great stage musical. The film also had quite the impact upon Mathew Arter, who takes to the stage in the title role for WAT. “I saw it with my class on an excursion and did Shrek impressions the whole way home on the bus”, says Arter. When it comes to citing a source for his interpretation of Shrek, his answer is immediate: “Mike Myers for sure! I love the original Broadway Shrek, Brian D’Arcy James, but I made a decision early on to try and take the Scottish accent a little further than people do in the stage version”.
While he has the key job of carrying the show and leading the cast, in some ways Arter has an easy time of it when compared to his fellow actors who are required to play multiple characters within the show. “The biggest challenge as the director has been making sure each of the cast feel connected to their characters and the characters around them”, says Warren. “Some of the cast are playing up to four different characters and it’s imperative that they feel connected to each one so they feel comfortable to be that character on stage. The show relies so heavily on each fairytale character and the way they work with all the others”.
Arter is vocal in praise of his hard working cast mates. “It’s been absolutely incredible working with them. Every single person brings a new and awesome version of their respective character and people are knocking it out of the park. I’ve been very lucky to have such great chemistry with Bort (Daniel Ortega who plays Donkey) and Amy McMillan (as Fiona) which, as everyone knows, is so important when you spend 100% of your time on stage with someone”.
While Shrek may be Warren’s first time directing for WAT, she is by no means new to the company. “I am one of the founding members and have filled many roles from Stage Manager, Producer and on-stage performer but never been able to work with a cast in this capacity. I’m probably a bit biased, but it was always our intention from the inception of the company that Western Arts would be a place that fosters growth in the performing arts by providing opportunity for all. I hope we have reached this goal once again with Shrek”.
“I love the message of acceptance that rings true from this show”, continues Warren. “Celebrating and accepting people for who they are on the inside is a really important lesson to achieve”. That message of acceptance flows into the marvellous song ‘Freak Flag’, a number in which Warren delights at the energy and enthusiasm which always flows from the cast as they perform the song. “But I also love the end of Act 1 finale ‘Who I’d Be’ “, she hastens to add, “because of the connectedness and conviction of Shrek, Fiona and Donkey. Without a doubt, both of these pieces are so moving because you believe every work they are performing”.
Shrek is a show with great heart and engaging comedy, with something for the whole family. Western Arts Theatre presents this delightful tale from Thursday October 4th-Saturday October 6th, with a preview performance on Wednesday October 3rd at the Clocktower Centre in Moonee Ponds. Tickets are available through https://westernartstheatre.org/current-production/