Beryl – New Vic Theatre

Cycling and theatre doesn’t sound like it should go together, or even so, entertaining enough for an audience to remember. The mix of the two does intrigue nonetheless. The story of Beryl Burton was completely unknown to me, and I restrained myself from pressing further into her life to give this production more anticipation. Burton is recognised as a remarkable sporting figure, but still remains unknown to this day. However, discovering hidden gems is absolutely fantastic for personal gain, but projecting that to theatre lovers does seem like a difficult task. Were the New Vic Theatre triumphant with this production?

Beryl tells the story of one of the greatest sportswomen to ever live. Beryl Burton’s constant drive and invincible determination is documented as she battles everything in her path to achieve success at every available opportunity. These obstacles include various health problems, records to beat and her relationship with her family members. There are only fours performers in Beryl: Hannah Edwards, Robin Simpson, Lucy Tuck and Rob Witcomb. They all played multiple roles, the most prominent were Tuck as Beryl, Edwards as Denise Burton, Simpson as Charlie Burton and, my favourite, Witcomb as the Queen.

The mixture of narration and acting from the cast was engrossing, but does require a little patience as you adapt to the style of the performance. The facts were very uplifting, and those accompanied with comical moments and heart-warming motivation emphasis the sheer strength of Beryl Burton. It demonstrates how over shadowed women were in sports too; especially with the fact that women’s cycling wasn’t introduced to the Olympics until 1984 (thank you for that fact, Beryl). The chemistry between the four performers brought sheer enjoyment whether in funny or serious scenes. Besides the transition from Young Beryl to Beryl being vague at first, the acting was superb and versatile.

The set was a very simple one with a map covering the floor of the performance area. The props were minimal, but they were used effectively and didn’t waste any time to set up. The director Gemma Fairlie stated that Beryl was more about focusing on the acting and bikes rather than the set. Despite there being so little on the stage it was great with a constant flow that never had any awkward breaks. This consistency, intentionally or not, matched Beryl’s character who never had any intention of stopping. The soundtrack related to the time periods which Beryl documented were perfectly placed and admittedly did raise a smile hearing The Chain by Fleetwood Mac.

With a beautiful blend of energetic narration and role blending transformed Beryl from a forgotten soul into an unsung legend. This play screams woman power and that is exactly what is needed to emphasis the struggles of Beryl Burton not only with her health, but also with gender when it comes to sports back then. Beryl doesn’t seem to scream out excitement, but believe me, this is something that you should definitely see at least once. Beryl not only brings a legacy to a new audience with huge success, but it does everything it can to protect and honour it.

Beryl plays at the New Vic Theatre until Friday 18th March – click here for more details.

About Author /

Matthew has been writing for the past 5 years about music, sports and movies and has now finally got his chance to write about theatre. Having previously worked for the likes of Kerrang and Uncut, as well as previously having a radio show for 6 Towns, he has interviewed hundreds of bands throughout his career.

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