OffWestEnd talks to Mark Beer who is directing and starring in the first ever professional UK production of The Importance of Being Earnest with a cast of disabled and non-disabled actors at Chelsea Theatre, starting on 19 September 2023.

Mark Beer is a renowned actor who has been in the industry for over 35 years. He has played a wide variety of roles on stage, television and film. Beer is the first disabled presenter on children’s TV in BBC1’s Playdays, and the first disabled actor to play a leading role in a TV drama in BBC series Specials. More recently, he played Danny Currum in an episode of BBC’s Doctors. Beer also played Peter in Double The Trouble But Twice The Fun for Channel 4, the first gay disabled love story on UK television.

What first attracted you to the theatre?

My love for theatre started when I was very young, maybe 6 or 7 years old. It provided an escape from the complications of my health issues during my childhood. Theatre made me believe that I could be anybody, or play anybody, instead of a child with a severe disability. My creativity allowed me to move without restrictions.

If you could pick any one person or theatre company to work with on your next project, who/which would it be?

It’s been a lifelong ambition to work with the Royal Shakespeare Company. I’ve auditioned for them twice so fingers crossed it will happen soon!

What is your opinion of Off West End theatre, in general?

Off West End Theatre is so important, it enables companies and people to say things that the West End would never be allowed to say. It’s really important that this channel of creativity is never lost.

What was the most inspiring production you have ever seen? Why?

Four years ago I saw Equus performed by an independent theatre company at Trafalgar Studios. The production was incredible, so creative and visually stunning.

What piece of work are you the most proud of?

I performed in the 2003 Panto at Stratford East and made history as it was the first time they’d cast a disabled actor. After the run I found out that they’d auditioned over 2000 actors for the role. It’s so lovely when production teams host inclusive auditions.

What things in your personal life do you draw upon when you direct?

I believe you need to draw upon all aspects of your life, you can’t compartmentalise. I take inspiration from my relationships, my family and general life experiences. Using my own life story, I’m particularly passionate about championing diverse talent and cast disabled actors alongside non-disabled ones, it’s not been done enough, unfortunately.

Are there any actors/actresses you would like to direct?

I’m currently directing them in The Importance of Being Earnest!

Which director do you respect most on OffWestEnd at the moment?

There isn’t one in particular but I always appreciate those who champion diverse talent.

Can you tell our readers about what you’re doing now?

I’m currently directing and starring in the first ever professional UK production of The Importance of Being Earnest that integrates a cast of disabled and non-disabled actors at London’s Chelsea Theatre which runs until 30th September. Aside from the play being beautifully written, it’s just as relevant today as it was 100 years ago due to the social messaging, particularly with reference to illness and disability. Lady Bracknell’s infamously savage attacks on anyone with any kind of difference is given a double comedy edge as she’s played by myself, someone with a visible disability. The remaining cast have invisible disabilities and this casting was deliberate as most people tend to think of a disabled person as someone with blindness or sat in a wheelchair. It’s important we highlight disabilities in the arts, inclusivity must be the way forward to ensure this world doesn’t remain marginalised. By bringing disabilities to the mainstream, we encourage the industry to evolve and represent society more accurately.