Interview With…Jessica Duffield

The actress chatted to Emma Clarendon about starring in Maxine Peake’s play about cyclist Beryl Burton at the Arcola Theatre.

(c) Alex Brenner

Hi thanks so much for talking to me. For those who don’t know what is ‘Beryl’ about? ‘Beryl’ is the incredible story of Beryl Burton the astonishing, record-breaking cyclist from Morley, Yorkshire, who, against the odds, achieved amazing things. She suffered from health problems as a child but, despite being told that she should avoid vigorous exercise for the entirety of her life, she was a World Champion, National Champion, received an MBE, an OBE, and her Women’s Record stood for 50 years. The play follows her life and journey, with lots of multi-rolling, comedy and on-stage cycling!

It sounds like a fascinating story. What was it for you that made you want to be involved with this production? I was inspired by Beryl and the more I read about her, the more I admired her determination and resilience. I also admire how humble she remained, as well as the importance she placed on working hard in order to succeed.  I felt that it was a story that should be told, and I was honoured to be able to share it with Yorkshire audiences and now London ones – it’s a real joy of a production.

Why would you say that this is an important story to be told on stage? I think it’s so important to share the success of such an exceptional female athlete, especially given how little publicity and acknowledgement she has received, despite such incredible achievements. The fact that she did what she did, in spite of her health problems and lack of financial backing, is inspiring for everyone and shows that, with guts and determination, extraordinary things can happen.

What did you first make of Maxine Peake’s play when you first read it? As soon as I read Maxine Peake’s brilliant script I loved the play. I loved the story; I loved the fact that she was a woman from Yorkshire with such determination and drive, and I loved the humour – that of both Beryl and Maxine Peake. Being Yorkshire born myself, I felt a real connection to the story and could see how much fun the play would be!

Given the play is centred on cycling – has it also been quite a physically demanding production to be involved in? Absolutely! It’s a fast-paced show with lots of races and many bursts of cycling, so we have to be fit! I made sure that I did plenty of spinning classes in the lead up to the show, as I have to be able to cycle and speak, and then recover very quickly!

If people are thinking about coming along – why should they? Because everyone should know about Beryl Burton! I believe her story is inspiring, whether you are interested in cycling or not. It’s definitely a play for everyone, with a light touch, plenty of laughs and is hopefully a feel-good evening’s entertainment!

By Emma Clarendon

Beryl plays at the Arcola Theatre until the 16th November.

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