DIANA ECCLESTON catches up with a former leading light in local amdrams who is now the driving force behind a stunning staging of ShrekWhen Nigel Harman was cast as Simon Cowell in I Can’t Sing, the spoof X Factor musical at the Palladium, the actor asked the TV talent show judge for some advice.
“Just go out there and be a dick every night,” Cowell is supposed to have said.
What direction notes Harman provides the cast of the touring production of Shrek – The Musical is undoubtedly more detailed, for the show is of the sort of quality which makes adults grateful that they have children, nephews, nieces or grandchildren, to be able to take along to the New Wimbledon Theatre.
Harman is enjoying one of the most successful careers on stage and screen of any Croydon actor. After starring in Shrek in the West End and winning the 2012 Laurence Olivier Award for his portrayal of the diminutive villain Lord Farquaad, the former EastEnders baddie is clearly a casting director’s favourite, having been handed a similarly nasty role in Downton Abbey.
Harman was born in Purley to the late Mo and Del, both extremely active and respected on the local amdram scene, primarily for directing. The family then lived in Woldingham.
Harman, now 42, had some training at the Alexander Academy in South Croydon, run by the inspirational Monica Wilde. Croydon Operatic and Dramatic Association member Morven Rae remembers one of Harman’s first starring roles as a boy: “He played Oliver to Ken Nicholson’s Fagin. I have a sweet archive picture of him being read a story at the beginning of the Pirates of Penzance, not sure what year. He also played one of the dancing waiters in Hello Dolly when Del directed it in 1992.”
Another CODA stalwart whenHarman was a child performer with the company, Ann Bowden, recalls him playing young Patrick when she took the leading role of Vera in Mame.
The bright young kid was soon on to bigger and better things.
In an interview for Radio Times when he was cast in Downton Abbey, Harman said: “My parents were really into amateur dramatics and it rubbed off on me, and I asked them if I could go to this little dance-drama school that was attached to an agency in London.
“My mum and I made a pact that I’d go for six auditions; if I didn’t get one we’d knock it on the head. I got the sixth – an Oxo advert – and by the time I was 12 I’d done 20.”
When he left Dulwich College he trained at Arts Educational and despite feeling dispirited when he had to earn a crust as delivery driver for Sainsburys, he was soon getting classy theatre work, including Eddie in the original London cast of Mamma Mia. Other West End credits include Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls and A Chorus of Disapproval.Not that you’d ever know any of this from his biog in the programme for the Wimbledon showing of Shrek. Harman is clearly not one for blowing his own trumpet and at three and a half lines, it is probably the shortest I’ve ever seen for someone with his credentials. I quote: “Nigel is widely known as an actor and has worked exensively in theatre, film, televison and radio. As director: Shrek marks his directorial debut.”
It is clearly a show he is remarkably fond of: he was in the audience for press night, laughing, clapping and whistling. He was justifiably proud.
I’ve never seen Shrek the movie or the stage show before and I’m delighted to say I enjoyed it almost as much as its director did. It is a real feelgood treat. The sets and costumes are an eye-popping, no-expense-spared extravaganza of colour and spectacle with lots of characters recognisable from fairytales and an immense dragon which takes four puppeteers to operate.
Dean Chisnall is a gorgeously green ogre, funny and cuddly. And I never thought I’d find myself laughing at people farting and belching as I did during his adorable duet with Bronte Barbe’s feisty Fiona, the princess with a secret.
IdrissKargbo is a terrific mover as Donkey and Gerard Carey steps into Harman’s shoes as the wonderfully egotistical Farquaad. Well, actually knee-pads as the performer must spend the whole show on his knees.
This is a fabulous night out for kids who know the film inside out. Don’t have children you can take along? Never mind…give yourself a new year treat and go green anyway. It will certainly put a smile on your face.
- Shrek runs at the New Wimbledon Theatre to January 31. Wednesday to Saturday evenings at 7pm, Thursday 2.30pm, Saturday 2.30pm, Sunday 1pm and 5pm
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