Mark Beer was one of the first disabled actors to be cast in a mainstream TV role and one of the first disabled presenters on children’s TV. He reflects on his 34-year-long career with Giverny Masso…
Tell me about your upcoming play, Home: For a Lost Soldier…
The play marks 100 years since the First World War. It focuses on a small community where the boys have come back from the war. My character is the lord of the manor and as you discover during the play, he’s certainly not been a hero. He’s actually one of the nastiest people I’ve played. I’ve worked with (director/producer) Alfie James previously in A Doll’s House at the Albany Theatre, where I believe I was the first disabled actor to play the role of Doctor Rank.
What are some of your career highlights?
I believe I was the first disabled presenter on children’s TV in Playdays with the BBC. I was also in a BBC series called Specials, which was the first time a disabled actor had been cast in a mainstream role in a regular series. One of the best jobs I’ve done was the panto at Theatre Royal Stratford East in 2003 – they had never employed a disabled actor to be in one of their productions before. Another career highlight was when I played a gay disabled character on Channel 4 in a film called Double the Trouble, Twice the Fun. In 2012 I did an episode of Doctors, the soap opera, where I played a rugby player who had been paralysed. Whenever they want someone to make people cry, I seem to be given the job. Last year I was nominated for the Norman Beaton Fellowship award for the BBC’s radio drama department.
Do you think opportunities for disabled actors have improved since you started your career?
Having worked for 34 years as a disabled actor, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve worked every year of my professional life since I was 17. What’s really improved is that disabled actors are being considered for disabled roles. When I started out that was not the case. However we need to be able to cast disabled actors such as me as bank managers or lawyers regardless of the fact I’m in a chair. The chair should not be the focus. In 90% of what I do, the chair is the focus. You have to have believability. I’m not saying I want to be cast as a ballet dancer who can still dance, it needs to be within the realms of reality, in the same way we are integrating female performers into roles made for men, or BAME performers. We need to do the same for disabled actors in film and TV and stage, and until we get to that point I won’t stop.
What are your future acting ambitions?
I would love to do Shakespeare at the Globe or the Royal Shakespeare Company, or be in something at the National Theatre.
Home: For a Lost Soldier runs at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London from December 10-15. More information is available here: tristanbatestheatre.co.uk