Taking a trip behind the scenes of Shrek The Musical
PUBLISHED: 12:53 20 June 2018 | UPDATED: 23:03 26 June 2018
While audiences enjoy watching Shrek The Musical on stage, behind the scenes an even bigger show is under way to make the shrektacular spectacular possible. Ahead of the show coming to Norwich, arts correspondent Emma Knights takes a look backstage.
With gingerbread puppets, a giant dragon and ogre ears among the array of items waiting in the wings, we could only be backstage at one particular show – Shrek The Musical.
And one thing is for sure – this is a musical that most definitely does not travel light.
Backstage is an Aladdin’s cave packed full of all things fairy tale and rather a lot of green, and it takes two full days to transform each theatre that the show stops at into the wonderful world of Shrek.
“There’s a show backstage which is probably bigger than the one onstage!” joked company manager Davin Patrick as he explained that the show – which opens at Norwich Theatre Royal on Tuesday - more or less mirrors the scale of the original West End production with its elaborate scenery, costumes and special effects.
Based on the story of the much-loved DreamWorks film, the hit musical tells of what happens Shrek the ogre leaves his bog in search of Princess Fiona, and joining the duo in the cast is a weird and wonderful mix of fairytale characters, a wisecracking donkey and the pint-sized villain Lord Farquaad too.
But before they all take to stage for opening night at each new venue, a huge operation takes place to create their world of make believe.
“Shrek tours in seven 40ft trucks and one of those is just for wigs, wardrobe and make-up. There’s another one for sound, another one for lighting and four have all the set and props,” said Davin, as gave me a tour backstage at the Royal and Derngate in Northampton.
“We usually come in the day before the show opens, start at 8am and work right through and open the following night.
“All the cast come in on the first day of opening, we start at about 1pm and we tech and go through most of the show because all the routes and everything change, each theatre is different.”
Every night there is an army of about 80 people – including a cast of 22 – working on the show.
Fifty-seven people tour with the musical and at each venue they are also joined by a team of local theatre staff.
Explaining some of their many roles, Davin said: “We have nine dressers plus a wardrobe team of five and a wigs and make-up team of six - and that’s just wardrobe, wigs and make-up - then we’ve got seven local stage crew backstage, there are three flymen, two followspot [operators], and in our team we have got three electricians, three sound and four stage management and three carpentry stage department.”
Together they all work like a well-oiled machine to bring to life the much-loved story of everyone’s favourite swamp dweller.
And there is also no rest backstage for the 22-strong cast either.
Steffan Harri, who plays Shrek, is in costume and make-up for an incredible 2.5 hours before each show and throughout every performance many of the other cast members have to swiftly and skilfully switch between a kaleidoscope of characters in between their scenes.
Dance captain Amy Oxley said: “There’s a lot of quick changes going on so actually sometimes when you get on stage it’s like, this is the simple bit, especially when you are in a new venue and [backstage] you’ve got to run downstairs to get your wig on and then you’ve got to go back to get your make-up on and get your prop and run on stage.”
There are about 100 characters in the show and cast members can have up to 10 quick changes per performance. Amy said one of the most elaborate is when the performers playing The Three Pigs have just two minutes to change into costumes for Lord Farquaad’s guards.
“For the pigs they are in a massive fat suit, they’ve got a prosthetic nose on, they’ve got a pig wig on, they’ve got these huge pig feet and they have to get out of that,” she said.
“The prosthetic nose comes off, the prosthetic hands come off, a flannel goes across their face and then they have to get into their armour...a full suit of armour with a hat and sword and boots, and then they have to run back on stage.”
Many of the transformations take place in the vast wardrobe village created backstage to accommodate, among other things, about 300 costumes, 150 wigs and a huge array of prosthetic noses.
“I think there’s at least 10 different types of prosthetic nose in the show because you’ve got the mice, you’ve got rat noses, bear noses, pig noses, witch noses, wolf noses, ogre noses, there’s lots of different noses!” said Amy, before moving over to point out The Three Bears’ costumes.
“This is Baby Bear’s costume. All of the bears have a kind of outer layer which is their fur and then they will also have an actual fat suit which gives them a fake little belly and fake thighs so they look like they are the shape of bears even if they are tiny.”
And just as the show has all manner of elaborate costumes, so too does it have an amazing collection of puppets ranging from Puss in Boots to a stunning giant dragon.
“We have three different Gingerbread Men, it’s the same character but you see him at different times, there’s the dragon that takes four people to operate - it’s huge - and then there are other things,” said Davin.
“We’ve got rabbits and a little homage to The Lion King with the giraffe. Everything is operated by the cast.”
The performers also provide the voices for the puppets, often singing from special vocal booths set up offstage with screens so the performers can see both the musical director in the orchestra pit and what the puppets are doing on stage.
One thing is for sure, Shrek certainly brings a lot of variety and never a dull moment on stage or off.
And that is exactly what Amy - who has returned to Shrek as dance captain and a swing covering female ensemble roles and Princess Fiona this time around – enjoys about being involved in the show.
She said: “I joined the tour in Norwich last time and did the second leg of the tour and took over as one of the ensemble characters, The Ugly Duckling, which was really fun, and then came back this time because I really love the show...it’s go, go, go which is what I love.”
• Shrek The Musical is at Norwich Theatre Royal from June 26 until July 8. To book tickets, visit www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk