Theatre preview: Shrek The Musical, Leeds Grand Theatre

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Yorkshire has enjoyed some of the hottest weather of the year this week, which is wonderful if you’re on holiday or can sneak a few hours to relax in the garden when you get home from work.

But spare a thought for poor Dean Chisnall who has to endure two hours of prosthetic make-up every day and wear an enormous and incredibly cumbersome fat suit before he can be transformed into Shrek, the eponymous hero of Shrek The Musical which opened last night at The Leeds Grand Theatre.

As much as he loves playing Shrek, 32-year-old Chisnall, who hails from Ormskirk, Lancashire, tries to explain to me just how truly horrible the make up and costume make him feel – especially on matinee days when he has to keep the heavy green make up on for 12 hours at a stretch; by the time the evening show opens the mask has become cold and clammy and half an hour into the show the costume is drenched in sweat and weighs a ton.

“It’s like being a member of a really sadistic club, he says. “No one will quite understand unless they’ve done it. You really are exhausted, but it’s a great exhaustion. The make up, particularly, makes you insanely hot, it’s a real work out and at no point is it a cushy number.”

The intricate make-up is applied to the same standards as that used by film studios and Chisnall adds: “Shrek is just such a phenomena that we make the costumes and make up as realistic as we can and I have to admit it is worth every single minute of the effort – it really does look impressive.”

Chisnall has been associated with Shrek for a number of years, starting out as understudy in the West End production when it opened in May 2011 and being promoted to the lead role in February 2012. It closed 12 months later on February 24, 2013 after 715 performances and audiences totalling almost a million. Four months later Chisnall was brought on board to reprise his role for the UK tour which kicked off this week and is due to continue until September 2015.

He says: “Unlike with a lot of shows we are not scaling down the West End production to take it on tour. Shrek is one of the biggest grossing animation films there is and we are putting the original Dreamworks film on stage with all the glitz and glamour and the fantastic costumes. It’s a wonderful night out.”

Chisnall and the original cast in London were thrilled by the reaction of the West End audiences – especially the men. “The kids come and they love it, they look at the dragon and the three pigs and marvel at the colours and the costumes but the adults absolutely love it,” says Chisnall. “The show is actually written for adults but for kids to enjoy. Much of the humour is over the kids’ heads but is not offensive. The dads come along to the matinees as they reckon it beats shopping but they go wild for it – I’ve never seen anything like it.

“As well as being great fun, the show is important moralistically,” says Chisnall. “There are lots of things going on that kids can learn from, such as don’t judge on appearances.”

It’s the first time that Chisnall, who has worked continuously in musical theatre since he graduated from drama school, has played Leeds and he’s delighted to be at The Grand. “I was told it was great but I think it is one of the most beautiful auditoriums I’ve ever seen. It’s absolutely stunning. We had a choice as to where we opened the tour and we chose Leeds – we are just so thrilled to be here.”

Shrek, for anyone not in the know, is based on the story and characters from William Steig’s book Shrek! and the Oscar-winning DreamWorks Animations feature film.

Shrek and his loyal steed Donkey embark on a quest to rescue Princess Fiona from a fire-breathing, love-sick dragon. There’s a cast of interesting characters such as he diminutive Lord Farquaad, a gang of fairytale misfits and a biscuit with attitude. The musical features all new songs as well as the cult Shrek anthem I’m a Believer.

Shrek plays at the Leeds Grand Theatre until August 17, tickets priced from £19 to £43 are available now online at leedsgrandtheatre.com or call box office on 0844 848 2700.

PIC: James Hardisty

These feathered friends are on song in Leeds!