Andrew Beckett talks about his passion for inclusive theatre

Brian Butler February 8, 2020

At five he was playing the hungry caterpillar; at 18 he staged a show for the Queen with 200 performers. Andrew Beckett tells Brian Butler about his passion for inclusive theatre, and his unlikely neighbours – a gay sauna and the HQ of MI6.


Andrew Beckett, the newly-installed artistic director at the Above the Stag Theatre in London’s Vauxhall, describes himself as an “RAF brat“ – a five-year-old in Germany where his father was stationed in the RAF. “Rolling around in a jumpsuit as the hungry caterpillar, I thought: I love theatre.“ The escapism, the magic of it has never left  him, he confesses. At 11 he was staging shows, forcing all his family to take part. He wonders if the escapism appeals because he’s gay, or it’s just a love affair.

In his mid-teens he was working in a Bristol charity, helping kids with disadvantaged backgrounds to continue their education through theatre, directing West Side Story and Sweet Charity. When the Queen came to open their building, he staged a show including all 200 kids at the centre.

After A-level Drama and Art, and six months “bumming about in Greece“, he ended up in a TV costume department, while directing small projects. “My father told me to go to university,” so aged 22, he went to Bath Spa.

“It was predominantly an acting course, but I was directing everything I could. My passion is story-telling, and how an audience interacts with that story,” he says. His first big theatre job was with the summer rep company of Paul Taylor-Mills at Windsor and other venues. “That was the first time I really put on my director’s hat. One week it was What the Butler Saw and the next A Day in the Death of Joe Egg.”

“We did 12 different shows in 12 weeks. It taught me everything I know: how to direct quickly; how to learn lines quickly; how to set lights quickly.“ His introduction to Above the Stag was when it was literally above a pub in Victoria.

“My worlds collided – my passion for theatre and for the LGBTQ+ community. Suddenly I felt a lot more validated. people wanted to work for me and I could earn enough to do it full-time.” One show ticked all the boxes for him. Next Lesson was a play about Section 28. It was a passion project. “I’d experienced the horror of Section 28 in my school.

“I was beaten up in a hallway in front of a teacher, who told me that my attackers were just being silly. I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I thought there was something wrong with me and my feelings for men.”

He was ‘outed’ to his parents by someone he thought he loved. Luckily they took it well – his father whom he’d feared to tell was positive and has remained his biggest influence. Another revelation was that Andrew comes from four generations of gay men “The older ones of course not able to come out. Suddenly my sexuality informed my life more than I ever thought it would.”

His passion remains to see how the theatre can fit into the educational world – to tell those unknown and unseen stories of people’s varied sexuality.

He sees the Vauxhall venue as a place for people to come together – a safe environment in a sometimes hostile world. “People get spat at in Vauxhall bus station. It’s about solidarity, making allies. This building is not just for gay people – it’s to educate our allies, and share our stories with them.” His current quest is to look for new LGBTQ+ drama. “Lots of people are writing it, but it’s not all good,” he admits.

He’s giving writers’ workshop opportunities and while we talk a new script is handed to him. He’s optimistic: “The musical Jamie being in the West End is a great phenomenon.”

His theatre is a charity and it relies on generous benefactors and ticket sales. Its main house is commercially-oriented while its newly re-launched studio space can take more  risks. Its location gives it an advantage – it sits side by side with a gay sauna, with sex clubs and the iconic Royal Vauxhall Tavern. Its new concern is with the growing over 50s LGBTQ+ community, many of whom are isolated. “We want to be a hub, all day, every day, where they can feel welcome.”

So, lots for him to plan, including two LGBTQ+ commissions. By 2021 he wants to be able to transfer successful shows elsewhere. And then there is his other neighbour – the spy HQ of MI6. “Gay people in wartime were poached to be spies – they were good at having a double life, good at lying and keeping secrets. It’s an interesting idea to develop.“ You sense there might be a play theme there.

What advice would he give his precocious young caterpillar self? “Your family will be fine; you will meet someone who will love you for you; don’t regret anything but remember that dreams have to be paid for.”

It’s very clear that Andrew has the kind of dreams that are bound to succeed.


Season’s details on the Stag’s website