Theatre Review: Beryl

Maxine Peake in Beryl
Maxine Peake in Beryl
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West Yorkshire Playhouse ****

Rarely have I experienced such a huge amount of goodwill towards a play even before the lights have gone down. Although perhaps that’s because the play begins before the lights go down and four intensely likeable actors step beyond the fourth wall and discuss how much or little they knew about Beryl Burton before they were cast in a play about her life.

When the the play proper begins, the audience is willing this little play to succeed as much as Beryl Burton’s devoted husband Charlie willed her across the finish line at each and every title she won. Beryl’s is an extraordinary story. A woman from Morley who conquered the world of cycling, it is written with huge heart by playwrighting debutante Maxine Peake.The problem with telling a story like this is that it can very easily lack drama. Event leads to event, first she won this race, then she won that race.

Fortunately, the story is incredibly special. The acting is bursting with joy and the writing knows its Northern audience. Indeed, despite being from the wrong side of the Pennines, Peake even takes the name of Lancashire in vain in search of a laugh. Admirable. In a sports drama, the dramatic part is the hero’s battle with themselves and Peake pulls it off. There were several teary audience members as they watched Beryl overcome obstacle after obstacle. It’s no coincidence that this play, about a cycling superhero, is on right now. But even if the circus wasn’t in town, this is a play well worth celebrating.

• To July 19.