Beryl Goes The Distance At Arcola Theatre

Beryl, Arcola Theatre ★★★★☆

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Beryl Goes The Distance At Arcola Theatre Beryl, Arcola Theatre 4
Photo: Alex Brenner

There’s a good chance you’ve never heard of Beryl Burton. This is staggering considering Burton’s sporting achievement, defying a heart condition to win over 90 domestic championships and seven world titles. In 1967, she became the first woman ever to beat a men's sporting record — all, apparently, through sheer Northern grit.

Photo: Alex Brenner

First performed in 2014 to coincide with the Tour de France’s Grand Depart from Leeds, Beryl originally starred its playwright Maxine Peake. Best known for her TV work, Peake uses her own clout to shed some limelight on the unsung sporting legend. Director Marieke Audsley commends Peake’s comprehension and love of ‘the playfulness of the rehearsal room’, which really shines through in the inventiveness and versatility of the cast.

Photo: Alex Brenner

The four actors clad in lurid lycra cycling gear play all the characters from her life between them, as well as frequently breaking the fourth wall to explain cycling terms and impart tidbits from the surprising history of the sport. From the feminist and working class roots of the humble bike, to illegal road races. Astoundingly, women’s cycling was not included in the Olympics until 1984.

Photo: Alex Brenner

The direct address, though enlightening, is overused in the first half and disrupts the narrative. In the second half, the play seems to get into gear and freewheels to victory.

Beryl, Arcola Theatre, Ashwin Street, E8 3DL. Tickets £12-£22, until 8 February 2020.

Last Updated 18 January 2020