REVIEW: BERYL (Arcola Theatre) ★★★★
Beryl, written by Maxine Peake, gets a London transfer from East Riding Theatre to Arcola Theatre in Dalston. Starting life as a radio play in 2012, the stage version was commissioned as part of the celebration of the Tour of France’s visit to Yorkshire in 2014.
The star of the title is Beryl Burton, the little known “greatest woman on two wheels”, twice World Road Race Champion, five times World Pursuit Champion and best British all-rounder for 25 consecutive years. In 1967, at the age of 30, she became the first sportswoman in history to break a men’s competitive record, cycling 277.25 miles in 12 hours; a record that was unbeaten for 50 years. She was inducted into the British Cycling Hall of Fame in 2009.
It’s clear why Peake chose to tell this extraordinary true story of a Yorkshire housewife who believed “anything the lads can do, I can do” and went on to do it. Refusing to listen to all those that told her she couldn’t; from the doctors that treated her aged 11 when a serious illness left her with a weakened heart, and advised her to avoid strenuous exercise for the rest of her life to her male colleagues at the rhubarb farm that told her to get an office job.
Directed by Marieke Audsley, the cast features Mark Conway, Jessica Duffield, Annie Kirkman and Tom Lorcan. The actors each play a number of roles and regularly remind us that they are telling us a story, dropping out of character to fill us in on some of the finer details of competitive cycling. They work hard, cycling on vintage bikes on rollers that are a constant presence on the stage, as they were in Beryl’s life. There is a lot of physicality and creativity in this show; the story moves in time and place as Beryl’s cycling career goes from strength to strength. Showing the passion, commitment and bloody-mindedness that drove Beryl to her multiple sporting successes. “I will make my mark” was her mantra.
Alongside the sporting tale is a tender love story between Beryl and her husband Charlie who introduced her to cycling and became her strongest supporter. This is a show full of energy and enthusiasm for the tale of an extraordinary woman that will leave you with a smile on your face.
Reviewed by Rhiannon Evans
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