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Interview: Mark Benton on Hobson’s Choice and Getting His Groove On

29 May 2014 Charlie Kenber

“I love it when you’re on stage and things go wrong...”

Ahead of the opening of Hobson’s Choice at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, we caught up with Mark Benton. Playing Hobson, Mark is a well-known face from television – including his recent appearance on Strictly Come Dancing…

London Calling: How are rehearsals going?

Mark Benton: Great actually, really good. When I was at RADA my final show was Hobson’s Choice playing Hobson. When you come to something after 24 years now (it’s been a while!) you want to do something different. What I’ve loved is that Nadia Fall the director has set it in the 60s, so it’s added a little bit of an interesting slant on it.

LC: Was it hard to return to it? Can you remember much from the last time?

MB: What’s funny is I thought I wouldn’t remember anything, but…there’s certain bits I learnt really easily because they must be stuck somewhere deep inside the back of my psyche.

You always want to do something different with it, and the setting certainly gives it a different angle – because obviously attitudes towards women and things were different then – so it’s just a really great way of looking at the play.

LC: The play is almost 100 years old now. Does the setting also help to make the play feel more relevant?

MB: Do you know it doesn’t feel dated. Obviously it is a historical play but it’s so well written that some of the stuff you go “this was written then!” To write strong women like Harold Brighouse wrote then is a big thing. By setting it in the 60s you can understand it more: you realise what a revolutionary play it was.

LC: What particularly attracted you to the project?

MB: I’ve always loved Hobson’s Choice. I remember watching the film with my mum when I was little…it’s one of those things that sticks in your head. This came up and I just jumped at the chance. As well as loving the play I’ve never played at Regent’s Park before, and it’s such a great place at the moment: you’re also challenged by the elements which is all part of the fun!

LC: Have you had a chance to get on the stage yet?

MB: We haven’t been on the stage, I went in the auditorium, and I didn’t realise how big it was! That’s part of the fun and excitement of it – we can’t wait to get on there!

 

LC: That must be especially difficult after TV work…

MB: Yeah especially somewhere like Regent’s Park where you are mic’d but if you’re playing an intimate scene you still have to speak loud. Those are the challenges that as an actor you relish. I love it when you’re on stage and things go wrong, or something happens unexpectedly – those are the things that keep it fresh.

LC: How would you describe the play to someone who hasn’t come across it?

MB: It’s a big comedy but it’s got great heart and it’s about the swapping of power really. Hobson’s this sort of King Lear character who rules his three daughters with an iron hand. And then his eldest daughter who’s a bit of a wallflower rebels and marries his boot-hand. As they become more successful Hobson spirals down into a dark place…It’s a wonderfully written play, and for anyone who hasn’t seen it it’s well worth a look.

LC: Hobson must be a great character to play…

MB: Oh it’s great! It’s always good to play a nasty character. It’s lovely because you see him go from this big, powerful, bombastic man to a broken man. So it’s a good acting challenge and a good journey to go on.

LC: Has coming back to the stage been an intentional move?

MB: You very rarely get offered a job that you love. I mean I’ve been so lucky in my career to work with some wonderful people and do some brilliant jobs. When you’re doing theatre you’re not doing it for the money you’re doing it for love, so I think that’s why I wanted to do it.

LC: Do you think you’ll be doing more plays?

MB: Oh I hope so. About eight years ago I realised I hadn’t done a play for six or seven years, so I forced myself to go and do a play because you get so scared – after a while you get a bit rusty. I’d love to be able to do a play a year, it’d be wonderful.

LC: Last year you did Hairspray – was that a bit of a departure?

MB: It was great! It came out of the blue really. It was a wonderful experience, it was feel-good. When you do something like that every night it’s a real buzz.

LC: Are you keeping up the dancing?

MB: Oooh, I think I’ve officially retired as a dancer. I’ve gone back to the day job now. I think I did enough of that to last a lifetime! I loved it and it was a wonderful experience.

LC: It must be great have done such a mix of work…

MB: Yeah that’s what I’ve always tried to do. When I started off and I was doing a lot of comedy and tried to do as much drama as I could, even if it was small parts just to keep my foot in that camp.

I love it all really, I love the challenge of it. I love doing a job where I think I don’t know if I can do it or not – that’s the buzz for me. And in my own little way I try and keep people guessing.

LC: Finally, why should people come and see Hobson’s Choice?

MB: I think because it’s got a bit of everything. You’ll have a good laugh hopefully, there are some cracking gags, it’s really romantic, and there’s a bit of action in there. It’s a great story. If we do it right you’ll come out having had a great night in the theatre, and watched a great story unfolding in front of your eyes. So hopefully that’s a good enough reason!

Hobson’s Choice is on at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre from 12th June – 12th July. Tickets from £23 - £55, available here.

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