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“On yer bike, lass – to victory”

Beryl (Cathryn Bowler) and Nim (Jon Elves)

Beryl by Maxine Peake, The Criterion, Coventry until 9 September.

Review by Ann Cee

“Beryl” is a winning play and is currently being winningly performed at the Criterion. Its funny, informative and fast as it whizzes the audience through fifty years of Beryl’s adventures on two wheels.

Although many of us have never heard of her, Beryl Burton was a winning British athlete who clocked up an extraordinary collection of national and international cycling titles and accolades after getting on her bike in the middle part of last century. An incredible Yorkshire woman of sheer grit and determination, Beryl relied on her own mettle, her lovely husband and lashings of rice pudding to keep her on the road.

There’s no doubting the toughness required to keep ‘squeezing the steels’ year after year and the dry Yorkshire wit helps to make seemingly impossible feats of endurance seem as straightforward as a circuit of the town park.

Beryl (Cathryn Bowler), Charlie Burton (Peter Gillam), Denise Burton (Rowan McDonnell)

This four-hander play by Maxine Peake (yes that Maxine Peake) and directed by Helen Withers, celebrates Yorkshire spirit, culture and humour with every line whether it is speaking as brilliant Beryl (fantastic Cathryn Bowler), super sidekick husband Charlie Burton (Peter Gillam), sporty daughter Denise Burton (Rowan McDonnell) or Nim and others (Jon Elves).

Cathryn, Peter, Rowan and Jon do a sterling job with the rapidly changing characters and accents they adopt and are brilliantly cast to bring a sweaty story to the stage. The versatility and fitness of the cast is never in doubt and they deliver the ‘ride of their lives’. It might have been nice to see tweedy pedal pushers in the early stages of Beryl’s journey but the cast inhabit the ubiquitous lycra cycling shorts with confidence and a multitude of thoughtful wardrobe props complete each character. I loved the various caps, jumpers, plimsols and pearls. The projections of landscapes and newsclips were dramatic, timely and evocative.

Beryl (Cathryn Bowler), Charlie Burton (Peter Gillam)

All in all, Criterion’s ‘Beryl’ is a triumphant telling of a triumphant but also poignant tale. Anyone who’s ever sat on a bike or watched competitive sport will appreciate the achievements of Beryl Burton and I think it’s fabulous that the Criterion has chosen to share her story. Audience members seeking an additional flash of authenticity are welcome to arrive at the theatre under their own steam – powered by pedals and rice pudding.


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