Where would Shrek be without his lovable sidekick donkey? With Shrek The Musical currently wowing Theatre Royal audiences, Marcus Ayton tells what it is like to don the ears and tail of one of the show’s best loved characters Donkey, Shrek’s wise-cracking sidekick. Marcus’s theatrical credits include Sammy Davis Jr in The Rat Pack Live, Ray Charles in A Tribute to the Brothers Live and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (UK Tour).
Can you tell us about your character and what you enjoy most about playing Donkey?
Donkey is very much a talker and he just wants everyone to love him. It is just a fun part to play. You can go onstage and you could be having a bad day and as soon as you are in that costume on the stage, it’s all gone. You are bright and bubbly. What you get from playing that part and at the end of the show when you are giving that bow – it’s just a lovely feeling.
What is your favourite thing about being involved in Shrek the Musical?
It’s playing Donkey! That part is so giving and getting to work with Steffan is great. Having him as my Shrek is just wonderful. Shrek is the only character I am with on stage during the show and when we are off we sit next to each other and chat. We have got a lot of reviews saying our chemistry on stage is good and it is like that off stage too.
Do you have a favourite scene in the show?
My favourite scene is ‘Make A Move’ which is in the second act and is my song. It’s such a cool song and getting to dance with the blind mice is brilliant. There is a scene which comes towards the end of Act Two where you see a little bit of Donkey when he is not pleased with the way Shrek has just treated him, so you get more of an in-depth view of how Donkey thinks and it just solidifies their friendship and what friendship means to people.
What is your costume like?
My costume is very hot. My costume is almost a ‘onesie’ and zips up the back. I have got three layers on. It is made to look like fur but it’s very heavy. It is individually tufted to look like hair. It is a lovely costume to wear but is very hot. As soon as you get the lights on you and you are running around and you’ve got the dragon behind you – it’s hot! I have shows where I think I’m not going to sweat today, but I can’t think of one show where that hasn’t happened.
How do you manage to sing with your face and ears covered in make-up and the donkey ears?
The ears are all built in the wig and are as light as anything. It’s all pinned and secure. You just don’t worry. I also have water and a little fan backstage and I put an ice pack on my chest to cool down quickly after I have been running around with the dragon. The other fairy tale characters have pieces upon pieces on and fat suits and they have to dance – it’s a big ask. It is one of the most challenging shows. I do have a regime. I have a steamer, I have a cup of tea and then I always have a ginger chew as well. I find it is really good to get you going before a show. I also drink a lot of water. I try to keep healthy. I always leave the show and go straight home to just try to keep on top of it. That’s why, touch wood, I’ve lasted this long.
Donkey is probably the children’s favourite character – why do you think children love him so much?
Kids love him because he is very whacky. He is that lovable rogue – the character everyone just falls in love with. Donkey doesn’t really care what he says and that is almost what a child will do – they will just say what’s on their mind. That’s where the kids can relate to him and he is a funny character. Everyone warms to a happy funny character. He wants to play and he’s an animal. It’s bizarre because he is quite human in so many ways that you don’t really think you are playing a donkey. As soon as I have that suit on I revert to holding up my arms in the donkey pose. As soon as I am in that suit I am a donkey in so many ways!
Have you visited Norwich before?
I toured to Norwich in Joseph when I played Calypso singer.
And what are you other career highlights to-date?
I did Parade at the Minarck Theatre in Cornwall. The theatre is on the cliffs so as an audience member you can see the dolphins jumping up and that was amazing to do. I’ve also done Blues Brothers and Rat Pack at the Edinburgh Fringe and a few pantos, and I did the Royal Albert Hall for the 300th year for the Freemasons.
How did you theatrical career start?
I did a lot of amateur dramatics as a child. My first am-dram was Paint Your Wagon back in Bedford where I come from. I then did catering in college and I can cook but I didn’t find it fulfilling, so I went on to do a BTEC in Performing Arts. After three years at uni doing Musical Theatre in Preston, I then then did a one-year course in London at the London School of Musical Theatre, so I’ve done a lot of training.