Norfolk actor’s journey from King’s Lynn to the wonderful world of Shrek

Shrek The MusicalPhoto: Helen Maybanks

Shrek The MusicalPhoto: Helen Maybanks - Credit: Helen Maybanks

Norfolk actor Kevin Yates speaks to arts correspondent Emma Knights about playing everything from Papa Bear to the dragon in Shrek The Musical.

Shrek The MusicalPhoto: ©Tristram Kenton

Shrek The MusicalPhoto: ©Tristram Kenton - Credit: ©Tristram Kenton

Playing everything from one of The Three Bears to a giant dragon to a tap-dancing rat is all in a day's work for Norfolk actor Kevin Yates.

The former Springwood High School pupil is part of the cast of Shrek The Musical and delighted the show is once again paying a visit to his home county and stopping off at Norwich Theatre Royal.

'I'm born and bred in King's Lynn my darling!' he proudly said, before asking to give a big shout out to his old school and its Kinetic Theatre group which first steered him on his path to Shrek.

It is actually the second time Kevin, 27, has been on tour with Shrek, having also been part of the original UK and Ireland tour.

Shrek The MusicalPhoto: Helen Maybanks

Shrek The MusicalPhoto: Helen Maybanks - Credit: Helen Maybanks

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'It's really wonderful. Last time I was flying by the seat of my pants, if you mind the expression, because I was a graduate and I was like, 'oh my it's my first job and it's a big one,'' said Kevin, who landed the role of ensemble member and second cover for the part of Donkey even before he had graduated from Arts Educational Schools London.

'This time I'm coming back to it with relaxation and's like seeing an old friend again.'

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As an ensemble member, for both tours he was cast as many different characters, but second time around he has swapped the roles of one of the Three Little Pigs and Puss in Boots for Papa Bear and a bit more responsibility.

'Before, I auditioned for the second cover understudy role [for Donkey}...This time I've been bumped up to first cover. I'm also puppet captain so I look after all the puppetry you see,' he said.

Shrek The Musical Photo: Helen Maybanks

Shrek The Musical Photo: Helen Maybanks - Credit: Helen Maybanks

His favourite puppet is the giant four-person dragon puppet that creates a breathtaking moment in the show.

'It is so much fun. Lucinda Shaw is singing [for] the dragon and I'm there operating the mouth, and it's like she's flowing through me and I can feel my inner diva coming out!'

The dragon is just one of many weird and wonderful roles Kevin performs as part of the ensemble during each performance.

'I play Papa Bear, so the first thing you will see me do is I will be coming on with my family, Baby Bear and Mama Bear. It's so strange to be playing a's very strange to see your paternal instincts kick in. When there are moments where Baby Bear is about to run off and tap Shrek on the shoulder, I find myself going to reach for him going 'where's he going, where's he going?!' and I really understand where my mum was coming from now!' he said.

'I start as Papa Bear and then I'm one of Farquaad's guards, and then I do some puppetry for Fiona in her tower.

'I do a lot of puppetry - the puppet for the travel song, the giraffe, and then I do the dragon head...and that's Act One!

'In Act Two we have got the Rat Tap and then some more guard duty for Farquaad and then I'm back on as Papa Bear throughout the rest of the show – not so many costume changes in the second half!'

When asked what he loves most about the musical, Kevin said: 'I do say this a lot and it is very cheesy, but to be able to share the idea to kids that what makes them special makes them strong is incredibly rewarding.'

One of his favourite scenes is Freak Flag – a fairy tale take on that iconic flag waving moment in Les Miserables - with all the storybook characters singing 'let your freak flag fly' and members of the audience donning their Shrek ears and waving their gingerbread men puppets.

And he also loves the scenes between Shrek and wisecracking Donkey.

'There's so many great scenes where Shrek, all he wants to do is get his swamp back, and Donkey is just having the best time with his new friend...It's really fun to see the two dynamics of overly keenness and unconditional love to kind of just standoffishness and abrasiveness, and see how those worlds collide.'

Kevin has come a long way since his days of school plays, but he is keen to point out they are one of the reasons he is doing what he is today.

Among his highlights as part of the then Springwood High's Kinetic Theatre group were playing the title role in Macbeth as well as the Captain in Return to the Forbidden Planet, and he enjoyed a month-long tour of Australia during which he played jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton in the show Buckethead.

'I was very lucky that in King's Lynn there were so many opportunities for me and young people to enjoy theatre and there's such a good community for theatre there,' he said.

In between his two Shrek tours Kevin has starred in the musical Rent's 20th anniversary tour.

A rock musical telling the story of a group of impoverished artists in New York City, Rent may seem worlds apart from Shrek's Big Bright Beautiful World, but for Kevin both shows share an important message.

'It's all about pushing that idea of love and living in the moment and accepting yourself and other people for the way they are,' he said.

• Shrek The Musical runs until July 8. Visit

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