Shrek star’s hope to be happy ever after

Bront� Barb� as Princess Fiona, Dean Chisnall as Shrek and Idriss Kargbo as Donkey
Bront� Barb� as Princess Fiona, Dean Chisnall as Shrek and Idriss Kargbo as Donkey
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After five years with a role, Dean Chisnall is preparing to say a very fond farewell to a beloved cartoon favourite.

He’s played lovable ogre Shrek on stage since the musical version of the Dreamworks film opened in the West End in 2011 - initially as an understudy, eventually being promoted to the lead and also on a tour which comes to a close this month.

Shrek first stormed into families’ homes the world over in 2001 when the film was released, telling the alternative fairy tale of a stinky ogre and his pursuit of love with the beautiful Princess Fiona, who shares her own ugly secret.

And for Lancashire-born Dean, he’s got possibly the biggest treat yet of his swamp-dwelling time to come; closing the tour down the road from his family’s Ormskirk home at The Lowry in Salford, where the show opens tonight.

So there’s no pressure on when he says this is his last print interview about the show...

We cover much of the expected material; the astounding time it takes for Dean to transform into the green star (two hours in make up and 30 minutes into the fat suit), and the chores of touring, among other things.

Despite the daily application of glue to fix Shrek’s prosthetics in place on Dean’s face, his skin is holding up well, even after all this time, he says.

“It takes about 20 minutes to get de-greened, I’ve ripped my face off by the time I’m in the dressing room, but I then have to be careful getting the glue off,” he said.

“It’s weird but my skin’s alright actually. It goes through all that process, but it’s like it has a deep cleanse and exfoliate every day.”

Dean had the option to walk away from the role last summer, on the tour’s cast change, but couldn’t resist the lure back to the North West for the very final leg of the tour.

“It’s great, perfect to be back again,” he said, as the show played a long Christmas run at Manchester’s Palace Theatre for 2014/15 - one of Dean’s highlights of the experience. “I’m going to have friends and family in at almost every show - even though most of them have already been to see it.”

You might expect a certain fatigue to have set in, but Dean is still upbeat, and happy to talk about a role and a show which clearly has an important place in his heart.

“In some ways it’s a relief it’s coming to an end,” he said. “Purely because it’s very, very hard work, so I’m looking forward to getting part of my life back, but there will certainly be a period of mourning as Shrek has meant a lot to me.

“To come to the end of the run in Salford and not be doing it again will be strange, and it will be like saying goodbye to a family after being on the road with this cast for so long.”

You’d think with the heavy schedule, eight shows a week, including two 12-hour matinee days when Dean first gets into the make up chair at 10.30am and stays as Shrek until curtain down after the evening show, he’d have enough on his plate.

But as well as getting to see new places across the UK, he’s enjoyed meeting theatregoers along the way.

“We’ve done a lot of promo events, where I get to go out in the full Shrek gear,” he said. “It’s so funny to see the children’s reactions, they’re either really good of scared of you.

“One of the favourite things we’ve done was a Christmas carol concert at the children’s hospital in Cardiff; it was the most inspirational thing and you wouldn’t ever get to do something like that in London.

“Theatre is a luxury item, and I know so many people have to save up to come and see our show, because Shrek and the message the story tells means something to them, and I’m certainly very aware of that.”

* Shrek, The Lowry, Salford Quays, until February 20. Call 0843 208 6000 to book.