Review: Beryl, a perfectly funny homage to the record-breaking Yorkshire cyclist

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Newcastle’s New Vic Theatre plays host to Beryl, a play written by actress Maxine Peake, following the life and times of Yorkshire cyclist, Beryl Burton.

Directed by Gemma Fairlie, the audience is taken on a journey with Beryl Burton through her rise to become one of the most influential women in cycling.

The innovative set makes the most of the theatre’s in-the-round staging. A map of Yorkshire covers the floor, three bikes hang from the ceiling, twinkling with fairy lights. and taking centre stage is Beryl’s bicycle, clamped firmly in position.

The play begins with Hannah Edwards as 10-year-old Beryl. Unruly and stubborn, she struggles in school, and fails to pass her 11-plus exam due to health problems, which sadly followed her through life.

The four-strong cast each take on multiple roles, as the story chronicles Beryl’s years from joining a cycling club all the way to competing in the World Championships in Berlin.

Lucy Tuck, as Beryl, quickly connects with the audience through her down-to-earth mannerisms and colloquial dialect. She beautifully captures the sheer grit and determination of Beryl, circling the audience in the gallery on her bike to audible gasps of awe from the audience and rapturous applause.

Devoted husband, Charlie Burton, played by Robin Simpson, becomes a firm favourite as he continuously supports Beryl and her love for cycling.

Rob Witcomb is an excellent support deftly switching between numerous roles, providing plenty of laughs, especially for his portrayal of the Queen.

On several occasions the actors break the fourth wall to address the audience directly. Breaking character, they explain the story of Beryl, adding facts about her incredible career. This allows the actors to have fun with their roles and even eat a few chocolates along the way.

The use of lighting and sound is particularly impressive as flashes of light capture Beryl’s most memorable moments, which are sprinkled down from the ceiling during the final scene. One of the defining moments captures Beryl’s final lap in slow motion; the actors, music, lighting, all move in time and slowly begin to speed up as she wins her final race.

Beryl is a charming celebration of a truly incredible cyclist and a remarkable woman.

Beryl by Maxine Peake is at The New Vic theatre, Newcastle-Under-Lyme from 3-18 March 2017 For tickets visit www.newvictheatre.org.uk

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