Whenever I’ve attended the outstanding pantomime at the Mercury, I’ve often thought, “How do you follow that?” And, for a good many years now, the company who do follow the panto onto the main stage at the Mercury is Colchester Operatic Society. And after last year’s gem of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, they confirm their reputation with this glorious, winter banishing, uplifting production of Shrek the Musical. With some great casting, excellent set pieces, and a book that sends up not just musical theatre tropes, but fairy tales themselves, this will leave you with a smile on your face and a warm glow. If you’re familiar with the film, David Lindsay-Abaire, (book and lyrics), and Jeanine Tesori, (Music), stick firmly to the plot as Shrek goes on a quest simply to find peace, but meets his true love, Princess Fiona, along the way, after being sent to rescue her by diminutive Lord Farquaad. Although some of the songs don’t immediately attach themselves into the brain, they are all sung beautifully and with great characterisation. Thomas Pleasant is a great Shrek, exuding tenderness and likeability from the offset, and Charlotte Reed matches him perfectly as the feisty Princess Fiona, (you know they are destined for each other when they are on farting terms- the song I Think I Got You Beat being a particular highlight). Although far from the original film and stage casting, Emma Theedom puts a great deal of energy into Donkey, making the part her own interpretation. Star of the show is, undoubtedly, Wayne Setford as height challenged Lord Farquaad, revelling in camp wickedness, and performing most of the show on his knees, a feat of endurance that is remarkable to watch. It’s a terrific ensemble though, and among the fairy tale characters, Kristie Heathcote is an impressive Pinocchio, Rory Dunbar a hilarious cross dressing Big Bad Wolf, (a shame the creators don’t give more space to this character), and, despite some first night blips, Becki Lee has a powerful voice and presence as Dragon, with excellent backing singers in the song Forever. It’s a technically challenging piece, and the crew work their brilliant socks off, (a shame they can’t be dressed more in keeping with the style of the show, but, of course, I appreciate the need for black clothes), and the show will become slicker with more performances. Directors Adam Woodhouse and Laura Hicks have brought together every element of the show with skill and style, the choreography is fun and fluid, and Neil Somerville is his usual excellent Musical Director self, leading a fine band, the sound is superb, and mixed very well. The first night audience rose to their feet, and the company deserved the standing ovation. It’s the perfect family feel good show, and it’s selling fast, so don’t leave it too long if you want to wallow in ogre muddiness.