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Interview: Dean Chisnall, Shrek in Shrek The Musical


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The Birmingham Hippodrome’s auditorium, consisting of 2,000 seats, is completely empty as I sit with Shrek (that is probably one sentence I’ll never type again.) In celebration of Shrek The Musical arriving in Birmingham for its UK tour I'm catching up with Dean Chisnall, who plays the infamous Shrek in the self-titled musical. It’s like a childhood dream come true.

“Last night [the first night] was absolutely amazing... the reaction was incredible and we’re so lucky to be in such a beautiful theatre”, Dean tells me as his voice seems to reverberate across the empty aisles - soon to be replaced by his roar.

One of many impressive feats of the production is its extensive wardrobe, with each characters' costumes, wigs and make-up being as intricate as the next. From the Sugar Plum Fairy to Lord Farquaad’s knights, each costume is perfectly designed for the role.

The star costume is obviously going to be Shrek’s. On being told that the make-up alone costs the production £375 a night, it’s hard not to choke. Dean sits in front of me in a suit and a cravat. It’s hard to imagine him as a swamp dwelling green ogre. The transformation is as magical as the story.

“The make-up alone takes two hours," he says. "The whole thing takes about two and a half hours, two hours for the makeup, fifteen to twenty minutes for the costume then you’re ready and then you’re on and it’s such a bizarre process.”

And what’s an orthodox “ogre saves princess from tower” without a dragon?

“The dragon is a thirty foot puppet; it’s absolutely enormous. It’s worked by four of our ensemble members who are obviously puppeteers and there’s one on the front end, one on the middle, one on the wings and one on the tail.

“It’s worth the ticket price alone to see the dragon work.”

The dragon is made from a wired skeleton and light fabric regardless of how heavy it looks. This gives it the effect of flight around the stage. It’s mind-blowing.

Dean continues: “For me ‘Who I’d Be’ would have to be my favourite song to perform; the song at the end of Act One.

 “It’s the first and probably only time we see Shrek open up his soul to the world. It’s such a gorgeous number and to sing it every night is really thrilling.”

Originating from the 2001 Dreamworks, it’s hard to imagine how such a show can be morphed into a musical.

“Obviously we’re recreating and performing the original story and it’s very very close to the film and they’ve done an unbelievable job turning it into a musical. The score is very clever.

“Some people do come along and say it’s like watching the film but with songs and dancing.

“We do ‘I’m a Believer’ at the end, which is the finale song, which absolutely brought the house down last night. They were up. They were dancing. It’s the only song that’s from the film.

As our chat intensifies, I ask Dean/Shrek if any part of his character crosses over in real life. Only after asking this I realise what I had just said. I just asked Dean if he’s like Shrek. Whoops.

“Only the size of me”, he chuckles.

“One thing I tried to create was the heart and soul of the character and I’d like to think that I have a sensitive soul personally.”

It’s a shame that musicals that originate from films get such a bad stigma, when in reality they’re some of the best plays in the world.

“That’s personal choice,” Dean begins. “I’m very lucky to be in a show that was and still is an epic film, so to play this part as a continuation from a film I fell in love with from a teen is an honour.

“We’re here to entertain and get people into theatre who haven’t been introduced to theatre before.”

And entertain us they did.

Shrek The Musical is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until April 26th. Read our review here.

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