Back to Stage School
His career has taken him from his childhood home in Liverpool to London, Los Angeles and Europe. But it is the historic market town of Frome in Somerset that has captured Mark McGann’s heart. Sarah Ford visited him to find out what his plans are for the future.
Television, film and stage performer, and one of the four famous McGann brothers, Mark has lived in Frome for the past three years with his wife, Caroline. Never imagining that this is where they would put down roots, the couple have found it to be their ‘most favourite place’. “Both Caroline and I have travelled extensively but we are really happy here. Frome is a very vibrant and open-minded place – it’s not stuck in its ways.”
We are talking in a bar at the town’s Memorial Theatre, where Mark is preparing for the launch of his series of acting masterclasses. Designed for all-comers, whether they are seasoned professionals or beginners, the one-day stage and screen acting courses have already proved to be a hit with individuals and theatre groups around the country. They are delivered under the umbrella of Mark’s two companies, Drama Direct and Screen Direct, and offer participants the unique opportunity of learning from the actor’s 30 years’ experience in the entertainment industry.
“There’s nothing quite like drama, and people committing themselves to a performance, for enhancing confidence and social skills,” Mark explains. “What you get at the classes is a bunch of people joining together, most of whom have never met before, all signing on to being brave but in a fun way. We try to make it clear that nobody dies acting and nothing awful is going to happen to you. It’s not called ‘play’ for nothing!”
“It’s nice to have the chance to do this on my doorstep,” adds Mark, who is full of praise for the efforts of volunteers who keep this 85-year-old theatre up and running. “The Memorial is lucky to be here after the council made its intention clear a few years ago to demolish it and build new houses. It was saved by the current trustees who raised the money to oversee its upkeep and restore it to the pristine, beautiful theatre it is now.”
The start of Mark’s own long-running career began as a youngster when he used to sing with his brothers, Joe, Paul and Stephen, and sister, Clare. “We are all quite close in age, harmonised together, and were all playing in our various school bands. We were comfortable with the idea of a life treading the boards,” says Mark, whose big break came as John Lennon in the 1981 Everyman Theatre production about the former Beatle. This moved to the West End and New York; a film for the Americans followed and as a result his feet never touched the ground.
It’s a role to which he has returned from time to time. According to the Liverpool Daily Post, Mark nearly brought the house down during a John Lennon Songbook concert with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, which took place as part of the city’s Year of Culture. And this August he’ll be back with a performance of John Lennon: In My Life during International Beatle Week.
For Mark, who also toured as Mickey in the first major touring production of Blood Brothers, music has undoubtedly always been a great passion – whether it’s performing his own songs or the work of others.
Today he is probably best known for his television roles as hotel owner Marcus Bannerman in The Grand, and as explorer Tom Crean, in Kenneth Branagh’s Shackleton. In 1995 he got together with his brothers and co-produced and acted in an award-winning historical drama, The Hanging Gale, based loosely on his own family history.
Would he work with them again, I wondered? “Never say never!” smiles Mark, who admits that having brothers in the same industry has had its problems. Being sent up for the same jobs, for instance, has created tension in the past. “But having three brothers who are always busy has also helped because the McGann name is always in the public eye.” Mark continues, “We are proud of one another and my family are very heartfelt and committed to what they do; they are all very talented people. They are doers and that has saved them and helped them.”
Although he is still performing, Mark says that he got to a stage about eight years ago when he started looking for more variety, a turning point that has led to more directing, film-making and the creation of workshops for students and professional organisations.
“I have been asked to do such diverse and incredibly interesting things. I am still forging ahead and I have found it very gratifying but it’s certainly keeping me very busy. You have to be careful what you wish for!”