Maxine Peake’s Beryl at the Coliseum
By Eileen Earnshaw
If you can’t remember who Beryl Burton was, and I confess couldn’t, after seeing ‘Beryl’ at the Oldham Coliseum you won’t forget her again.
Beryl, arguably the most gifted, successful woman cyclist that ever lived.
As a child, Beryl contracted Rheumatic Fever which weakened her heart muscles. She missed a lot of school and had to work really hard to keep up with her peers. This, plus threats of never accomplishing anything in life gave her an unlimited ambition and will to succeed.
She took up cycling in her teens when she met her husband Charlie who she married at seventeen. Charlie became her mentor, mechanic and most fervent supporter throughout her career.
Her list of awards and track record was amazing, especially as during the cycling off-season she continued to work on a rhubarb farm in West Yorkshire.
Her 12 hour cycling record set in 1967 lasted for forty years.
The reason why there isn’t an Olympic Gold medal in her large collection of awards, is that it was not until women’s cycling was not included into the Olympics till 1984.
The play, written by Maxine Peake and directed by Chris Lawson, has a cast of four who each play multiple roles. They are Tori Burgess, James Lewis, Charlie Ryan, and Elizabeth Twells all four newcomers to the Oldham Coliseum.
The set by designer Irene Jade is part velodrome and part garage. It is built using bikes donated by Streetbikes, a charity that have given away 1300 bikes over the years to people who otherwise could not have afforded one.
Projections and videos are used to set scene in a variety of relevant locations as the play progresses from West Yorkshire to the continent.
‘Beryl’ is a story of courage, the will to succeed whatever the effort required. It is an uplifting and highly entertaining play.
There are, in any story, layers of reality that can be glimpsed beneath that which is presented. In the case of ‘Beryl’ it is brought to our attention that every race fee, all her equipment, transport, both for her, the bike and accommodation was self-funded. Her mechanic was Charlie, her husband and there was no public funding available. Beryl won her last title in 1986. Her autobiography ‘Personal Best’ was published the same year.
Beryl is available to be seen at the Coliseum until Saturday 21st May followed by Keswick, then The Dukes Lancaster.