Shrek is a monster musical in more ways than one.
Seven huge wagons transport this hit show, and its tale of a swamp-dwelling ogre’s quest for love, on the road.
During its run at Sunderland Empire we went backstage to see what the wagons are crammed with to make the magic happen - everything from green fingers to a 14ft dragon - nicknamed Effie by this tour - who is transported in her own special cage.
There’s around 100 characters in this adaptation of the Oscar-winning DreamWorks animation, which means they need a huge wardrobe village backstage for the hundreds of elaborate costumes and wigs that help bring these fairy tale creations to life.
Tasked with playing the Pied Piper, Pinocchio, Peter Pan and co are a fit-as-a-fiddle cast of 22 who often have just one minute to transform from a knight into one of the three pigs.
It makes the wardrobe village a flurry of wet wipes and hair grips during shows, but fortunately there’s a team of ten dressers who help this back stage choreography run smoothly.
“We have 57 cast and crew on the road with us, as well as the band and physio. In total, there’s 80 people who make it happen but the audience only ever see 22,” explained company manager Davin Patrick. “The costumes are such a huge part of the show because people know and love these characters, so a lot of attention to detail has gone into their creation. We use a tonne of Swarovski crystals alone which are hand-sewn.”
He added: “Everything has been carefully timed for costume changes, but in some scenes they have to be done in the wings to save even more time. It means backstage requires as much choreography, if not more so, than the performance itself. It’s like watching ants scurrying about.”
Among the heaviest costumes are the portly pigs - which are a struggle to lift on the coat hangers, let alone wear - in which the actors have to dance. It makes for a very physical show, hence the need for a physio who helps to keep the cast suitably supple.
Then of course there’s the big man himself, Shrek, played by Steffan Harri, who’s starring opposite Call the Midwife’s Laura Main as Fiona.
Steffan’s call time is around an hour before the rest of the cast as it takes an hour-and-a-half in makeup alone to transform him into the flatulent leading man.
To make sure he looks as realistic as possible, prosthetics are used in the transformation and once Steffan’s in costume he has to stay in it, meaning that on a two-day show he has to be the ogre for ten hours and can’t leave the theatre for fear of scaring passers-by.
Davin said: “It’s a very physical show and it’s very hot with the heaviness of the costumes and the heat of the lights, so we always have water bottles at the side of the stage for the cast. Most cast members go through two bottles per show, but Steffan will go through four because of the weight of his costume.”
The tour is back in Sunderland for the second time where it’s running at the Empire until Sunday.
Speaking about the popularity of the show, Davin said: “The audience love it and I think it’s because it appeals to all ages, much like a pantomime does, there’s humour for young and old. Then we have all these great costumes, big dance numbers and, of course, plenty of farts.”
•Shrek is at Sunderland Empire until Sunday, February 11. Tickets from 0844 871 3022 or www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland.
•Read our review of the show here.