Teesside actor Mark Benton stars in his first stage musiclal at Sunderland Empire

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Teesside actor Mark Benton stars in his first stage musiclal at Sunderland Empire

Teesside actor Mark Benton stars in his first stage musiclal at Sunderland Empire

Posted: 06 Feb 2013

Teessider Mark Benton,47, has been on our TV screens for 20 years and forged a career as a top character actor. Now he's back in Sunderland in his first stage musical in Hairspray.

He talks to Michael Hamilton


MH: Tell me how your new role came about.

Mark: They approached my when I was doing the TV show Waterloo Road. I thought it would be a great adventure. Itís a bit of a departure for me because itís my first musical and my first drag role Ė I donít believe in doing things by half!

I play Edna who is the mam of the main character Tracy. The wonderful thing about Hairspray is that itís a lot of fun, but it also has got a great message about racial equality. I get to don my glamorous gear, including my high heels. I sing a few songs and a do a few dances and generally have a great time. Iím looking forward to playing the Sunderland Empire Ė Iíve never played there before. 

MH: How does being on stage compare to your regular TV work?

Mark: I love TV of course but I like the immediacy of theatre. The audience is right there in front of you. You have one chance at it and you get an instant reaction. Thatís the joy of theatre. The worst thing is the FEAR, the fear of forgetting your lines, forgetting where you are, tripping over in my high heels or my wig coming off. I hope it will be all right on the night. Itís just nice to be working to be honest. As long as Iím working and being offered good parts I donít really mind. I have done lots of different theatre and TV Ė but if I could choose any role I havenít been offered so far it would be nice to do some Chekov on stage.

MH: Why are you leaving BBC TVís Waterloo Road? 

Mark: You will still see me as maths teacher Chalky on TV until the current series ends in the Spring. Iíd done 50 episodes and two series and I thought it was the right time to leave. Thereís a good storyline to end it Ė I canít tell you how it ends of course! Ė and itís nice to leave on a high. They are a great bunch of people and itís shot in Glasgow, which is a city I love. But itís time to move on. The storyline leaves it open-ended, because my screen son is still at the school, so you never know. If they offered me another good storyline I might be tempted back!

MH: What were your teachers at school like?

Mark: There are always a few teachers who are inspirational when you are growing up. I grew up in Grangetown and went to the old Sarah Metcalfe school. I remember Mr. Brighton who was my form teacher and a lovely man, and my drama teacher Ann Tighe was great. Later there was Gordon Steel and Anne Atwood who I did youth theatre with.

MH: How did you get involved in acting?

Mark: My uncle Michael Gunn is an actor and I think initially when I was young I wanted to be like him. I used to come home from school and he would be there with his tales. At school I did a few plays then I went to Billingham Technical College and I would do as many local productions as I could. Anything I could get my hands on.

It was always acting or music when I was growing up. I was always in bands. I tried to write stuff but the people who were in the band were actually really talented musicians and better singers than me too. First off we were a heavy metal band called Stallyon Ė the Ďyí was very important in the spelling of course Ė and we then morphed into a pop funk band called Face Moods. We took the name from a poster on the music room wall because we couldnít think of one ourselves. It was a terrible name. We played a few gigs at school and on local radio but we split up before we got anywhere. Apart from Paul Tilley who was the drummer, and he is still making a living as a professional musician, gigging and teaching drums.

MH: What was it like for a lad from a council estate in Middlesbrough to get into acting school RADA?

Mark: I found RADA pretty down to earth really. My year in particular was a real mix of different people with different backgrounds so it was great. I had a brilliant time. It was totally unlike I thought it would be. There were some public school types but it certainly wasnít all stuck-up posh people. It was wonderful training.

MH: Do you get back to the North East much these days?

Mark: I still support the Boro, of course, but I had to give up my season ticket because I just wasnít getting to many games because of work commitments and family stuff. I managed to get up to a couple of games before Christmas, which was nice. I think weíll make the play-offs this season Ė the manager Tony Mowbray is doing a great job.

Iím a soft southerner now! I live in Hastings with my wife and three children (son Archie 14, and daughters Grace, 12 and Fig, seven) but I try and get up to the North East four or five times a year. My sister Dawn is a dinner lady living in Redcar, and my brother Ian is an insurance man. Iíll be staying with my dad Tommy when I come up to do the show. He was a lorry driver but heís retired now and living a life of leisure. My family have always been a tremendous support including my mum Glyn, God bless her Ė she passed away five years ago. I guess they are proud of what Iíve achieved. I definitely get my sense of humour from my dad.

MH: What do your family North East mates make of your TV celebrity?

Mark: My family and friends are really proud of what Iíve done. They have got used to it over the years. But for someone from my background to go away and become a successful actor, it took some getting used to for them and at the same time to realise I was still the same me. But they are supportive and try and catch the things that I am in, and they are usually complimentary about what I do!

     Mark Benton is starring in Hairspray at Sunderland Empire Theatre Mon day March 4 Ė Saturday March 9. Tickets £18.50-£43.50 Tel: 0844 871 3022 www.ATGtickets.com/Sunderland

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