HAIR-RAISING ROLE DRAGS MARK AWAY FROM CHALKY
When: Monday, February 25, to Saturday, March 2. Nightly 7.30pm, Thursday and Saturday matinees, 2.30pm
Where: Hull New Theatre, Kingston Square, Hull
To book: 01482 300300
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Sunday, June 30 2013
On screen: Hairspray the musical is based on a 1988 film by John Waters. Set in Baltimore, Maryland, it follows teenager Tracy Turnblad as she pursues stardom as a dancer on a local TV show and rallies against racial segregation.
Stars: The film starred well-known names including Ricki Lake, Sonny Bono and Debbie Harry.
On stage: In 2002, the film was adapted into a Broadway musical of the same name, which won eight Tony Awards. A second film version of Hairspray, an adaptation of the stage musical, was released in 2007.
Mark Benton will be dressed in heels and a frock for his new stage role – as the Edna Turnblad in Hairspray. It is an "adventure", he tells Will Ramsey
F or the next few months, Mark Benton will be all woman. The wigs are ready, as are the "killer" high heels.
All the North Easterner needs now is to channel the spirit of Edna Turnblad – a shy and sensitive single mother – for his first stage musical.
Mark's starring role in Hairspray, an American comic musical set in 1960s Baltimore, is one the actor is raring to get going on.
Not least because it offers such a different challenge from the roles – such as the long-running character of Chalky, in TV school drama Waterloo Road – in which we've been used to seeing him.
"I'd not done anything like this before, so I thought 'why not'?," he said.
"It is an adventure."
The role sees Mark in drag for the part of Edna – a woman trying to cope with the growing fame of Tracy, her daughter, after an appearance on a Baltimore TV show.
"The part is time-consuming to get ready for. I've got a few different wigs and the heels kill me," he said.
"I've also got this huge fat suit that gives me some voluptuous curves, which can be a challenge when you've been out singing and dancing under the lights for a few hours.
"It's one of those roles where, if you've got an entrance, you've got to really go for it."
But he says the character of Edna and the issues the musical raises – not least, this being the early 1960s America, racial segregation – makes it far from a simply comic turn.
"She is not a panto dame, she is a real woman and you want the audience to be on her side," said Mark.
"It is a show that is uplifting and entertaining but also raises some issues about equality."
The actor said he accepted instantly when his agent called to him offer him the role.
He joins a list of well-known faces who have appeared as Edna – including Michael Ball and Brian Conley – though Mark says he was keen not to be influenced by earlier turns.
"I remember seeing the film but I haven't seen it on stage," he said.
"I've resisted watching any clips of it on YouTube because I want to put my own stamp on it."
The role marks the latest starring turn for Mark, who fell in love with acting during his Middlesbrough childhood.
Brought up on a council estate in Grangetown, he was fascinated by the stories of his uncle, actor Michael Gunn.
"When I was a kid, my uncle was an actor and he used to come and stay with us," he said.
"It was the tales he used to tell us. I just think I wanted to be like him."
He began performing in as many amateur productions as he could – applying for drama school at 18, when he was turned down, and again at 20, when he was accepted by the Royal Academy Of Dramatic Arts.
In between, there was an enthusiastic series of gigs with a heavy metal band called Stallyon.
"We morphed into a funk band – I'd got into Level 42 – so it changed a bit," he said.
"Drama school was, at 20, a last-ditch attempt, I might have gone into teaching otherwise. I went down to London with my tail between my legs."
He needn't have been so doubtful. The actor has gone on to build a successful television acting career – in series including comedy drama Northern Lights and the pub-set comedy Early Doors.
Mark can currently be seen in the BBC television drama Waterloo Road, as Daniel "Chalky" Chalk, a maths teacher. The role is set to end this spring.
"I've done 50 episodes now over two years – it just felt like the time was right to go," he said. "I've had some really good storylines – and I love Chalky so much I wanted to leave on a high."