Beth Hinton-Lever  

Beth Hinton-Lever, 28, is very busy actor who describes herself as “a constant liability with 1.52 arms” Susan Elkin met her

How did you get into acting? My sister (15 months older than my twin and me) was keen so we all did Saturday morning classes and so on – very much a trio. But it never occurred to me, that given my disability, I could do it professionally because I had never seen anyone who looks like me performing. So I went, from Liverpool where we’d lived since I was 10, to University College London to do a degree in archaeology. Because I was living in Bloomsbury, I saw a lot of theatre and gradually started to think: “Why exactly can I not do this?”

Archaeology to actor is a big jump. How did you do it?At first mostly by being in the right place at the right time. A friend – he was in the year below me at uni – asked me if I could choreograph his production of Parade. Gulp. Encouraged by friends I agreed to have a go and the show got collected for the National Student Drama Festival where to my amazement, I won an award. Then I got into a production as a dancer because it was assumed that if I can choreograph, I can dance. Then a director heard me singing to myself in a dressing room and asked me to audition for pantomime. I hadn’t even got an agent. It was all a bit surreal. 

But you trained at Mountview? Yes, I decided I needed some training to learn how to pace myself and work more systematically. I did the MA at Mountview in 2016/17 (back there last week to talk to students – full circle!) where I was the only British student who had worked professionally. It was a nice position to be in because I knew how the industry worked although I got a bit tired of the “pretending to be a tree” part. From there I went straight to Graeae to do Reasons to be Cheerful directed by Ian Drury, one of my absolute heroes.

And since then it’s been non-stop? Yes! I haven’t had time to develop a fall-back plan (although I did a CELTA in my final uni year so, at a pinch, I could teach English as a foreign language) because there haven’t been any gaps. I did Treasure Island at Leicester Curve and West Side Story among many other things. As You Like It as part of National Theatre’s Public Acts project was wonderful. Theatre’s a two-way thing or it’s pointless. Seeing all those community actors on stage with us, a small group of professionals was so special it reminded me that this is why I love this work. I was recently a witch (and other roles) in Macbeth at the Globe – just standing on that stage was a moving moment and I was able to prove to myself that I can do plays as well as musical theatre.

Tell me about your TV workI did an episode of Silent Witness and learned a lot. I was cast as Mrs Johnson who is 32 and has a child of 7. I’m only 5 feet and the nine-year-old cast to play my child was taller than me. The actor playing my husband was over 6 feet so they couldn’t get us all in the frame unless we sat down! I’d like to do more TV but it’s very different from stage work. My agent – yes, I do have one now – has set me homework to watch more TV and study what the actors are doing.

How far do you think your disability helps to get you cast? I just don’t know. Of course, I’d like to think that I’m always cast for my talent but I can’t be sure. Either way it doesn’t matter much because the important thing is that I’m there and people can see me. It’s so important, not least for younger people with disabilities to see that, yes, a performing arts career is possible even if you don’t look quite like everyone else. That’s why whenever I choreograph anything I always make sure there’s a disabled dancer in the company, preferably one as his/her first job. I also do my best, if approached, to help anyone who is writing a dissertation about disability in the arts.

What about the idea that disabled actors can only play disabled roles? Well sometimes I’ve done just that – Long John Silver, for instance – but actually anyone I play in anything is going to be disabled. Casting me puts a different spin on a role – and enhances it.

What next? Well, since you saw me in Macbeth, I’ve done a two-week workshop at the Donmar on a new musical called Motherland. It’s a beautiful, hard-hitting piece about what it is to be a woman and I hope it has a future. I’m choreographing an open-air piece – with a 30 piece orchestra! – at Brighton Festival later this month and I have an audition tomorrow for a role in Kinky Boots (Queens Theatre Hornchurch/Wolsey, Ipswich) so fingers crossed. Otherwise the future, for the first time, is not certain but I’m trying to relish the prospect of a bit of time off because I don’t get much of that.

Do you do any teaching? Now that I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve realised that having been in several quite high profile shows I could teach masterclasses so I shall be approaching drama schools soon. 

Is there anything you can’t do? Not really. All actors are problem solvers; disabled actors even more so. There is always a solution – you just have to do whatever it is in a different way and take five minutes to work out what that is. And I can, incidentally, drive a car – better than most of my friends! – and play musical instruments such as drums well enough to get actor-muso jobs.