Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Going Green In Fairytale Land!

Belfast is preparing to be invaded by a giant green ogre, a beautiful princess and a host of fairytale creatures as the Shrek tour lands at the Grand Opera House tomorrow.

Unfortunately I wont be able to travel to Northern Ireland to see the show but if you're lucky enough to go, please give Faye a super load cheer.

The article below was written by Jenny Lee for 'The Irish News'.

The big bad wolf, Puss in Boots, Little Red Riding Hood, The Three Little Pigs, The Gingerbread man, the Sugarplum Fairy - I didn't know who I was going to meet next during a whirlwind tour backstage of Shrek The Musical. 

More than 100 cast and crew are involved the show, which opens in Belfast tomorrow night, with seven lorry loads of equipment transporting sets and equipment to each venue during this debut tour of Ireland and Britain. They even bring their own washing machines and driers to each venue. 

Behind-the-scenes staff include four wardrobe staff, four wig staff, four make-up artists, two electricians, a carpenter and a physio and 11 local dressers at each venue. The backstage area is a myriad of costumes, masks, ears, ogre parts, pigs noses, Pinocchio noses and the stunning dragon which is operated by four puppeteers. The hand-sewn detail on the costumes, the shelves filled with green faced prosthetics and Princess Fiona wigs quickly make you realise just how professional this show is. "This show relies on everyone's skillset, from film quality make-up artist to the actors on stage. It's a spectacle and this is why it's been such a success. If you imagine what panto should be like this is it," said an enthusiastic company manager Neil White. 

Each performance involves 110 characters and 'swing' cast members can undergo 10 changes during a single performance. There are hot flannels aplenty to remove make-up during quick changes and even vodka in a spray that can to help disguise the smell of sweat. 

The musical boasts its own dedicated make-up department, with Shrek's make-up alone costing £2,000 a week - and putting it on takes more than two hours. On days he also has matinee performances Dean Chisnall (32), who has played Shrek in both the West End and touring productions, arrives at the theatre as early as 8am and might not leave until after 10pm. He's "more used to seeing myself in a mirror with a green face on than I am seeing myself". "This show is really demanding and has taken over my life. But I wouldn't change it for the world. It's a dream to get paid to be every child's hero," he says. 

Shrek the Musical is based on the story and characters from the 2001 Oscar winning DreamWorks Animation film which featured the voices of Mike Myers, Cameron Diaz and Eddie Murphy. 

Featuring all new songs as well as cult Shrek anthem I'm A Believer, Shrek The Musical brings the well-loved characters to life as Shrek and his loyal steed Donkey set off on a quest to rescue the beautiful Princess Fiona from her tower guarded by a fire-breathing love-sick dragon. 

Although the story is loved by children, there are references and jokes aimed squarely at adults too, mainly from the character Lord Farquhar. "It's a real family treat. The kids are overwhelmed with the costumes, the colours, the dragon and the set. But the surprising thing is how much the adults enjoy it. It's the dads that are made come along to the Saturday matinee that get out of their seats in the end and go nuts for it," says Neil. As well as heart and soul, Shrek is also full of morals. "It's great it gives everyone the message not to judge a book by its cover and all that. It is such an image-obsessed world in which we live - it's the part of this business I hate," adds Neil who doesn't hesitate when asked his favourite scene. "There is a scene at the end of act one which is the first and only time that Shrek opens up to Donkey and tells him where he's come from and what he'd like to be in life. For me it's a priceless piece of theatre and as the bloke playing the characters is such an important moment in the show." 

It's an extremely physically demanding role - Dean dons a heavy Shrek suit and padding for each performance and admits he's lost weight playing the jolly big green fellow. "It's excruciatingly hot and at the end of the night the suit is quite disgusting," laughs Neil who while off stage is constantly followed by make-up artists prepared to glue back bits of his face if they slip due heat or sweat. "Per show I drink about seven litres of water. I'm not going to lie - it's bloody hard work - but I've never worked on a job where everything is as good as this and the attention to detail is phenomenal."

Shrek's Princess is played by Faye Brookes (27) who previously appeared in Belfast playing the leading role in the Legally Blonde tour. She is also currently starring on the small screen in the popular BBC drama Our Zoo, playing the role of feisty council worker Frankie. "We had to challenge ourselves vocally with this show and I'm really privileged to have worked with our director Nigel Harmann who stepped us out of our comfort zone. I think that's why it's done so well on tour," she said. 

Although a fan of the less conventional Disney princesses, such as Pokahantus and Elmerando when she was younger, like most girls Faye dreamed of being a princess one day. "Nowadays with Frozen I'm totally Arendelle (the fictional setting of Disney's hit film). Anna is the nowadays princess I aspire to - the one who can pull funny faces and be a bit geeky." 

Shrek The Musical runs at Belfast's Grand Opera House from October 8 to 19. Goh.co.uk

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