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Nigel Harman directs Shrek The Musical at the Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Can you believe it’s 14 years since Shrek the movie hit the big screens? Back then in 2001, a little-known actor called Nigel Harman had no idea he would go on to TV soap success, huge theatre acclaim and land the plum gig of directing Shrek The Musical in 2015.

Shrek and Fiona
Shrek and Fiona

‘What do I have to do to get a little privacy?!’ yells Shrek, the swamp ogre who loves solitude.

Well, here’s a hint; don’t pitch up at our theatre with your funny lines, your fantastic songs and your A-list director, ’cause we’ll only come and watch you.

Children and adults alike are expected to stream to Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre this month as Shrek The Musical takes up its only residence in Kent from Wednesday, February 11, until Sunday, March 1.

The show was a massive hit in the West End before it started its tour of the UK. This production retains London’s leading man in the role of Shrek, Dean Chisnall. Also in Kent will be former EastEnders heartthrob Nigel Harman, who won the Best Supporting Role Olivier Award in 2012 for his portrayal of ruthless, fairytale-hating ruler Lord Farquaad.

Actor Nigel Harman is directing the UK tour of Shrek The Musical
Actor Nigel Harman is directing the UK tour of Shrek The Musical

Nigel, 41, won’t be playing the part in Canterbury, though – he has taken on the even bigger role of directing the show on the regional tour.

What’s On asked Nigel about the transition from acting to directing, his nasty turn in TV’s Downton Abbey and playing Simon Cowell in recent stage parody I Can’t Sing: The X Factor Musical.


Shrek The Musical is your directorial debut. What prompted you to start directing?

“It has been in me for a good few years. I had been thinking about directing and at the beginning of this year I took a much more serious step and was working on a couple of other projects, putting them together. I was at the last night party of Shrek as it was closing at Drury Lane, and it was the first time I had seen it from out front properly. I had a whale of a time and mentioned to the producer that I was working on a couple of other things, directing-wise, and she said, ‘How would you feel about directing the tour?’ We had a meeting a month later and the rest is history.”

Are you nervous?

“Yes! I’m awake at night, just really looking forward to it and making sure I’ve thought of everything. It is really exciting. I don’t know what it is about this show but it makes me cry and makes me laugh in equal measure. It seems like a perfect way to launch my directing.”

‘I put my head between my legs, kissed my wife and then went on stage. It was a really great night.’

How did it feel to win the Olivier Award for your portrayal of Lord Farquaad?

“It was brilliant. I couldn’t quite believe it. I remember them announcing the nominations online and I was beside myself that I was even nominated, so you can imagine how I was six weeks later when I’m actually at the ceremony. As my category got closer I got more and more nervous. Out came the presenters and it was me! I just couldn’t believe it. I don’t remember what happened. I put my head between my legs, kissed my wife and then went on stage. It was a really great night.”

How do you feel about directing someone else in that part?

“I’m going to bring the statuette in every day and show it to him! All joking aside, it is really exciting. The guy is great. All echoes of me will be blown out of the water within days and I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do with it.”

Lord Farquaad
Lord Farquaad

Lord Farquaad is a dwarf, acted on his knees. Will you have any top tips for him about acting on his knees?

“You develop odd muscles and a bum like a Chieftain tank as all your energy has to come from your core and your middle. There’s lots of physio involved. But it is a risk and reward part. The more you risk the more you’re rewarded.”

Did you enjoy being part of the original cast?

“Definitely. We had Amanda Holden playing the Princess then we had Kimberley Walsh. It was a dream double really. They were both fantastic. It was a fantastic cast and I’m still in touch with a lot of the company. It is a very good show to work on.”

Dragon and Donkey
Dragon and Donkey

Were you a fan of the film?

“Yeah. I remember seeing it and just thinking, how can something animated and computerised touch me the way it has? How can it be so funny? I just couldn’t believe what they achieved. We are so used to that standard, but you have to remember that this was pioneering at the time. If you ever go back and watch the first one, it’s still brilliant. We kind of create that on the stage. We take a lot of the iconic moments from the film and add songs to it. It seems like the natural progression for Shrek to become a musical. It is really funny. Then you find yourself crying because you’re wondering whether Shrek the ogre is ever going to fall in love with his princess. You are a grown man going, ‘I can’t believe I’m swept up in this story!’ All my friends who came to see it, basically came along out of duty to support me, but afterwards they came backstage and said, ‘I absolutely loved it and I wasn’t expecting to!’ I think it has a certain magical quality.”

What did you think when you were approached to take the mickey out of Simon Cowell in I Can’t Sing: The X Factor Musical?

“I just laughed and went, ‘What? You’re doing what?’ I basically had the same reaction I think everyone else had: you’re doing X Factor the musical, that sounds terrible! But Harry Hill’s written the script. And all the music was original, it’s not a jukebox musical. From the moment I read the script and heard Simon’s got a power ballad in the second half all about his life and it’s called Fabulous, I thought there’s no way I can not do this.”

Princess Fiona
Princess Fiona

Have you met Simon?

“I met him briefly at a press launch. He seemed lovely and charming. We laughed a lot. He said in an interview I should go out every night and make a prat of myself. I just thought that was incredibly self-effacing and I really liked him for that. He always seems to get a joke that he’s not telling anyone else.”

What was it like appearing as the villain Mr Green in Downton Abbey in 2013?

“It was kind of mad. It’s a hell of a cast. There are some really brilliant actors in the show. It was not intimidating, as they are all really welcoming, but when you join a show that has been doing that well, you know that if it stops doing well it’s because of you. There’s that little bit of pressure. I wasn’t in it very much so I didn’t have too much responsibility but I did enjoy it. And there are definitely worse places to walk out of your trailer than Highclere Castle. It is just extraordinary. You have to walk 500 yards up to the house, and it is just breathtaking. There are sheep baahing in the fields and I would think, ‘People are actually paying me to be here!’”

Nigel Harman played the evil Mr Green in Downton Abbey, filmed at Highclere Castle
Nigel Harman played the evil Mr Green in Downton Abbey, filmed at Highclere Castle



Nigel is from Surrey, where his parents were involved with Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association.

By the age of eight, Nigel had an agent and appeared as a child in TV shows Tenko and Alas Smith and Jones.

He went into stage and musical theatre work as a young adult and won small TV roles in episodes of Red Cap, Doctors and Coupling.

Everything changed in 2003 when Nigel won the role of Dennis Rickman in EastEnders, who became known to the viewing public as Mini Den because his on-screen dad was ‘Dirty’ Den Watts.

During his stint in EastEnders, Nigel won many awards including the National Television Awards Most Popular Newcomer in 2003 and Most Popular Actor in 2005.

In 2012 he won Best Supporting Role at the Olivier Awards for his portrayal of Lord Farquaad in Shrek The Musical.

In 2013 he was caught up in TV controversy when he played evil valet Mr Green in Downton Abbey, and viewers complained about a harrowing scene in which he raped popular character Anna Bates.

There were no hard feelings behind the scenes though, as actress Joanne Froggatt and Nigel have plans to work together on a play called The Rabbit Hole.

Last February Nigel appeared as Simon Cowell in I Can’t Sing! The X Factor Musical at the London Palladium. Despite positive reviews, the musical closed in May.

Video: Official trailer for Shrek The Musical

Shrek The Musical is at Canterbury’s Marlowe Theatre from Wednesday, February 11, until Sunday, March 1. Tickets cost from £24. Visit www.marlowetheatre.com or call 01227 787787.

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