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Stuart King

Review: BERYL at Arcola Theatre

Penned by actress Maxine Peake, BERYL began life as a radio play back in 2012 and was subsequently adapted into a stage play, which first featured in the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s 2014/15 season.

Beryl - Arcola Theatre Mark Conway (Tom), Annie Kirkman (Jo), Jessica Duffield (Sue), and Tom Lorcan (Jim) in Beryl at the Arcola Theatre. Photo Alex Brenner.

It’s an energetic four-hander in which the cast of two girls and two guys imbue every scene and situation with the sort of corny, playful and inoffensive humour which brings a smile to the faces of all but the most stubborn of surly teenagers.

Through the efforts of director Marieke Audsley, the piece - which is largely delivered as a pastiche homage direct to the audience - is a potted history of Beryl Burton, the high-achieving female cyclist from Yorkshire, who began life with various medical restrictions which should have severely curtailed any ideas of sport, nevermind the gruelling demands of road racing. The fact that the impediments served to spur-on The Yorkshire Housewife to achieve such a remarkable clutch of records (long before Britain introduced funding and became preeminent in cycling and dominated in Olympic time trials and pursuits), is frankly astonishing.

The players Mark Conway, Jessica Duffield, Annie Kirkman and Tom Lorcan maintain a loveable tongue-in-cheek delivery and a cracking pace throughout, supported by Ed Ullyart’s inventive and entertainingly thematic set.

For a nation which currently displays such saddening divisions and which is often accused of being entirely London-centric, this play serves as a welcome reminder of the sort of Yorkshire pride, grit and determination which has so often provided our writers with rich subject matter. Peake’s effort may not be on a par with Billy Elliot or Billy Liar, but it should be commended for shining a light on an extraordinary and gutsy woman, whose multiple records stood for years and who on one notable occasion, managed to trounce an entire field of male racers.