Review: Beryl

Arcola Theatre
4 star rating
A seemingly playful account of the trials and remarkable achievements of a truly great and unique sportswoman driven by an overwhelming desire to win. Well worth catching.
Beryl at the Arcola Theatre

Image courtesy Arcola Theatre and East Riding Theatre

Show details

Show information

Closed here Saturday 16 November 2019

Cast and creatives


Mark Conway - Tom

Jessica Duffield - Sue

Annie Kirkman - Jo

Tom Lorcan - Jim


Marieke Audsley
Maxine Peake
Set design
Ed Ullyart
Sylvia Eales
Simon Bedwell
Video design
Simon Bedwell


Meet Beryl Burton, the greatest woman on two wheels, in this trailblazing tale from actor and writer Maxine Peake.

Beryl Burton MBE, OBE - twice World Road-race Champion, five times World Pursuit Champion - was never meant to cycle.

Aged 11, a serious illness left her with a weakened heart.

Doctors warned against strenuous exercise for the rest of her life.

Aged 30, branded 'the Yorkshire housewife' and with no financial sponsorship, she became the first sportswoman in history to break a men's competitive record.

Featuring a host of unforgettable characters and a great big dollop of Northern wit, Maxine Peake's freewheeling play is the extraordinary true story of a woman who pushed at the limits, took on the status quo - and won.

ActDrop reviews

Peter Brown

Performance date: Wednesday 23 October 2019
Review star rating image

The name 'Beryl Burton' might not readily come tripping from the lips of many folk these days.

Notice I use the term 'folk' and not 'people'.

That's rather important here since it echoes the linguistic niceties of the environment in which champion cyclist Beryl Burton was born and raised, and lived for the duration of her life.

For Ms Burton was from West Yorkshire, a place where the meal you eat in the evening is called 'tea' (not dinner or supper) and where other quirky expressions may bamboozle visitors to England's largest county.

And I have an interest to declare - I was born and raised in West Yorkshire too, though not in the 'rhubarb triangle' where Ms Burton's home town of Morley is located.

That, however, shouldn't mean a total lack of objectivity in what follows, though I am obviously partial given the heritage I share with this show's principal subject.

Better known as an award-winning actor, writer Maxine Peake takes us here into the world of top class cycling, which Beryl Burton (1937 to 1996) was to dominate for more than a quarter of a century and whose records in the sport were almost too numerous to list and were to endure for decades.

Moreover, Ms Burton's cycling achievements thrashed those of her male counterparts - in 1967 she set a new record for the 12 hour time trial (covering almost 300 miles) beating the men's record at the time and which stood for a staggering 50 years.

Cycling records from the mid twentieth century regularly come tumbling in the two hour traffic of this show which, as one might expect, necessarily involves a considerable amount of ... cycling.

Those elements might prove dramatically fatal in invoking and maintaining audience engagement, even given the astounding successes we hear about.

Maxine Peake, though, with her keen actor's intuition and inventive writing style avoids potentially repetitive or sluggish regurgitation of factual detail by introducing a large range of characters to weave what proves an intriguing story.

And a highly capable ensemble of four make no attempt to paper over the fact that they are actors - for right from the start we find them talking about auditions for their roles.

A seemingly playful biographical account is lent bags of humour in both the appealing characterisations and Marieke Audsley's deft directorial approach that allows the actors to inject their own personalities into the multifarious characters we meet - including the Queen and even one of her famous corgis.

All of that makes Beryl a highly watchable story that also underlines the immense, almost incredible achievement and success of its subject.

But though the show may seem light-hearted or even somewhat whimsical, it also turns out to be the moving tale of a gritty, indefatigable fighter whose obsessive desire to win overcame a whole swathe of obstacles, tribulations, injuries and health issues to get to the top of her sport without funding from either state or sponsors.

Well-written and delivered with agreeably comic overtones, Beryl proves amusingly entertaining whilst powerfully describing a woman whose amazing sporting record deserves to be remembered and celebrated.

Well worth catching.

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