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A dream role for Dean

SHREK might be a modern fairytale, but there is an even bigger fairytale on stage than the adventures of the loveable green ogre.

When Shrek opened in the West End four years ago Dean Chisnall was just one of the ensemble, one of those names hardly noticed at the back end of the programme, all listed as playing an assortment of quick change roles and some with the added responsibility of understudy for a named role – in Chisnall’s case it was Shrek.

A responsibility which had to be fulfilled in a crisis when the actor playing Shrek was struck down with a sore throat and failing voice mid-show. Cue short delay while green make up was slapped on, no time for niceties, and Chisnall was Shrek.

From chorus line to star, the plot of no end of Hollywood feelgood movies.

Chisnall must have done OK because in February 2012 he was asked to take over the role full time, playing Shrek until the West End show closed a year later and when the first UK tour launched last year he was back in the role again and, having now played the role longer than anyone else in the British productions, he still has another year of swamping ahead of him.

Incidentally, he is the only person to have been in Shrek since it’s very first performance in Britain in 2011 to the present day.

It just goes to prove you don't need TV to show Britain's got talent, or indeed a distinct lack of it in many cases, you just need to look in the ensembles of any West End or touring show where there are stars just waiting for the chance to shine.shrek

So what is it like playing such an iconic, cartoon character? “Its incredible,” said Chisnall, “you can feel the warmth and love for the character before you even start, so we are already ahead of the game. It’s really nice as the actor playing that role to know that the people are with you, so to play the character that many of us fell in love with in the movie is just a dream.”

Dean Chisnall as everyone's favourite ogre, Shrek

One advantage of playing such a well known and easily recognised character as Shrek is that no one recognizes you in the street, so Chisnall, Shrek in his human form, can wander the shops, eateries and sights of Birmingham without anyone batting an eyelid.

He said: “It’s great I can walk out of the theatre and no one knows who I am. It’s great, brilliant. I’m not one of those actors who wants attention, I am very happy to leave the theatre and no one know who I am.”

Not that that was the appeal of the role. Chisnall, a likeable 32-year-old Lancastrian, in an interview about playing Shrek was recently asked what would be his dream role in the theatre?

“I said I am playing it” he said without hesitation. And he means it. You can feel the enthusiasm he has for the role just talking to him.

Mind you the role is physical challenge for any actor, not that Shrek does anything but amble from scene to scene, this is more try hard than die hard.

It is not the physical effort, the challenge comes from merely being Shrek for a couple of hours a night. For a start there is the make up and costume for the role. Chisnall said: “That takes about two and a half hours.” That means arriving about 4pm for a 7.30 show.

Then there is the costume itself. “It’s heavy and it is vast, not forgetting the boots which are two or three inch platforms, so by the time I am finished it is enormous. I am losing so much fluid per show, I am drinking seven or eight litres of water per show, just to refill so that tells you a little bit about how much I am losing, it is the best gym membership I have ever had.”

If almost two gallons is going in then imagine what is coming out and all that perspiration just serves to make the costume even heavier.

Not surprisingly there are two Shrek costumes with the one used in a show cleaned and dried as soon as the curtain falls.

Shrek came out just before Chinsnall want off to drama school, Arts Educational Schools London, not that the DreamWorks film had anything to do with his career choice. “It’s a bit of a Billy Elliot story really. Acting was something I wanted to do and then the dram school said I had got in which was a great surprise, and here I am and I left there 10 years ago this year and I am very lucky to still be in the business.”

His first job was the then new Andrew Lloyd Weber musical The Woman in White, and he has also appeared in the West End in Evita, La Cage aux Folles and Love Never Dies.

And the appeal of Shrek never dies either. He said: ”I am genuinely enjoying it.  I am absolutely loving it and for someone who has been in the makeup 5 or 600 times and at least another 200 ties to go, I do genuinely have a love for the role. I don’t think you can do thinks if you don’t love it and I am deeply passionate about the show and about the people in it and about the audience who come and see it. So I am really very much enjoying myself.”

Roger Clarke

Falling in love with a Princess

Paddling to keep the Shrek swan afloat


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