Maxine Peake brings this little known story of Beryl Burton to life that leaves you feeling amazed that she isn’t as well known as she deserves to be. 

Samantha Power (Beryl) & Rebecca Ryan (Denise). Photo credit Keith Pattison..jpg
Samantha Power (Beryl) and Rebecca Ryan (Denise). Photograph by Keith Pattison. 

What do you think of when you hear the name Beryl Burton? Don’t be surprised if you have never heard of her as her story has been forgotten over time.

Celebrating the life and career of one of the most successful female cyclists, Maxine Peake’s writing debut has plenty of heart and soul to really capture the spirit of Beryl and her grit and determination to succeed no matter what.

Although the set has an industrial and practical feel about it, surrounded by props that are used in the show, the production itself doesn’t feel clinical and unemotional as the set might suggest. Instead it is fast, funny and physically demanding for the cast.

Taking the audience through all of the most important moments in Beryl’s life, moments that show the highs and lows of her career, this is mainly a narrated piece with  short snap shot scenes in between proving why it is a piece that would work well on radio. The trouble with this technique is that there seems to be too much narration and perhaps not enough character development.

However, it has to be said that the cast work well together on stage, from Samantha Power’s gritty and determined Beryl, Rebecca Ryan’s reluctant Denise, Lee Toomes as the supportive Charlie and Dominic Gately’s equally determined and supportive Nim.

But the cast also all show a strong ability to switch roles and perform other characters quickly – particularly Gately whose turns as Charlie’s mother and the Queen really put a smile on the face.

The use of projection in the show is effective – particularly at the end of the show, creating a beautiful atmosphere to pay one final tribute to this extraordinary cyclist who mangaged to cover more miles in 12 hours than the leading male cyclist to name one achievement out of many.

This production is extraordinarily inventive, from the creative use of wheels to help create cars, the use of the bikes in different ways – really reveal the practical nature of the show that allows the audience to use their imagination.

Both Peake and Gatward have managed to celebrate the power of positive thinking and how nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it, while exploring the extraordinary legacy of Beryl Burton whose story would have been further forgotten had it not been for this production.

There is a real sense of pride and in an age where celebrities from reality television shows are thought highly of and as role models, Beryl Burton deserves to be rediscovered and held up as a perfect example of what a true role model looks like.

It is a show that slowly grabs your attention and manages to hold it from beginning to end, leaving you wanting to know more about the extraordinary talent this woman possessed -despite the health problems that she had.  A show that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible.

Beryl is playing at the Rose Theatre in Kingston until the 19th March for more information and to book tickets visit: http://www.rosetheatrekingston.org/whats-on/beryl

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