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Brief Encounter with ... Hairspray's Mark Benton

Mark Benton plays Edna Turnblad in the new tour of Hairspray, which kicks off at Manchester's Lowry Theatre tonight (13 February 2013).

Benton has clocked up previous credits onstage at the National Theatre, Old Vic, Lyric Hammersmith, Donmar Warehouse, Royal Court and RSC and has made TV appearances in Waterloo Road, Early Doors, Eureka Street, Catterick, Second Coming and The Street.

Following its run in Manchester Hairspray, which also stars Marcus Collins, Lucy Benjamin and Freya Sutton, visits venues including Liverpool, Glasgow, Milton Keynes, Norwich, Nottingham, Bristol, Leeds and Belfast.

Why did you want to get involved in this production?
When Hairspray came up I was at the end of a long stint in Waterloo Road and just thought 'this could be an adventure'. I'm not regretting the decision - it's a lot of fun, and something very new for me.

Did you see it in the West End?
No. I saw the film a while ago but since getting the role I've purposefully avoided seeing any other versions of the show as I don't want to do what other people have done before. I often find that when you take over roles straight from other people it's not as funny.

Is musical theatre something you've long wanted to do?
To be honest it came out the blue, I've never really had a secret longing to do musicals. That said, I have been in bands before and I love to sing. Plus I love going to see musicals, they can be very uplifting.

Does the fact Edna is such a larger than life character make her easier to play?
I don't think so. I think in some ways it puts you under more pressure because not only are you in one of the main roles but you're also dressing as a woman. And she's no panto dame, she's a lot deeper than that - I'm still trying to work out her out to be honest.

How are you finding the fat suit?
It's huge. I look like one of those joke rubber chickens. And I don't know how women wear heels all the time - they kill me.

And the accent?
It's coming on, though I do slip into Middlesborough from time to time...

Any venues you're especially looking forward to playing?
I'm looking forward to Sunderland, which is near where I'm from. And I've got lots of friends in Manchester and Glasgow.

Would you like to play the West End sometime?
I think initially this was meant to come to the West End but I'm not sure what happened. It would have been nice because I could've been at home every night. I'd certainly never say never to a West End show.

You were a big hit as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream for Filter
I'd actually gone up for the Peter Hall production but didn't get it, so then Sean Holmes, who directed me in Comedians, said "you've got to do it" and I held him to it! Then when the production came about I was filming during rehearsals, which is where the concept of me coming out the audience and performing script-in-hand came from. It was a wonderful creative process, and the production appealed to a lot of people who might not usually go and see Shakespeare.

How did you get into acting in the first place?
I think initially I wanted to be like my uncle (Michael Gunn), who's an actor. So I used to do youth theatre which led to drama school and it quickly became apparent that I didn't want to do anything else. My parents were great and said "do what you want to do and we'll support you".

When did you know you'd made it?
When I got into RADA I thought maybe I could do it. And then I got a job at the National soon after graduating which was a great confidence booster. But you can't rest on your laurels - as soon as you think 'I can make it', that's exactly when you won't.

- Mark Benton was speaking to Theo Bosanquet


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