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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Tom Greeves

Mark Beeson obituary

Mark Beeson
Mark Beeson founded MED Theatre, Manaton and East Dartmoor rural community theatre in 1989 and served as its artistic director for 33 years. MED Theatre was the rural community theatre company he founded to serve Manaton and East Dartmoor. Photograph: Chris Chapman

My friend and colleague Mark Beeson, who has died aged 67 of amyloidosis, was an ecologist, playwright, poet and theatre director based in Devon. MED Theatre was the rural community theatre company he founded to serve Manaton and East Dartmoor.

Mark wrote and directed more than 40 plays, incorporating original music and dance, which were performed in the round by casts of amateur actors, and toured to venues across Devon. He was the theatre’s artistic director for 33 years from its foundation in 1989.

Though born in Canada, in Powell River, British Columbia, by the age of five he was settled on a Dartmoor farm with his parents, Christopher, a farmer, and Jane (nee Bowater), a writer. From school at Winchester college he went to Magdalen College, Oxford, to study classics, but switched to human sciences. After graduating he returned to live on the farm.

I met Mark in 1979 when he was part of a Manpower Services Commission team (that I led) collating information on the archaeology of Devon in the newly formed Sites and Monuments Register in Exeter.

A year later, his poem The Walk won a prize in the Observer/Arvon/South Bank Show international poetry competition. Ted Hughes, one of the judges, commented that “both Seamus [Heaney] and myself were very taken by it”. In the same year he married Alison Hastie. They worked closely and productively together on projects including the community theatre, but later divorced.

A 2017 production of The Howling by MED Theatre
A 2017 production of The Howling by MED Theatre. Photograph: Chris Chapman

In 1981 Mark undertook a study of blue monkeys on the Zomba plateau of Malawi under the supervision of the primatologist Vernon Reynolds. He was awarded an MPhil in primate ecology from Exeter University in 1986, and was elected a fellow of the Linnean Society. It was observation of the interaction of a “multigenerational assembly” of the blue monkeys that inspired him to found MED Theatre in 1989.

Mark’s plays, rooted in the Dartmoor community, explore ecological issues, drawing on folklore, history and culture, often humorously. They were performed by amateur casts of up to 40 people, ranging from schoolchildren to pensioners. Between 1986 and 1990 four of his plays were broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and an extract from his poem The Blue Monkeys of Zomba was read on BBC Radio 3 in 1999. He also founded and edited a free community magazine, the Dart, from 1981 to 2001.

Living and writing in his medieval farmhouse, Mark was an important creative voice in Devon for more than four decades.

He was an inspirational teacher, gentle, patient and modest, but with an inner strength. He bore decades of spinal pain from ankylosing spondylitis stoically and without complaint.

He is survived by his children, Luke and Teffan, four grandchildren, Iris, Poppy, Kit and Monty, and by his siblings, Peter, David and Oona.

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