Beryl

Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The sport of cycling is currently in the midst of a golden age here in the UK.  Through their exploits at the Olympics and the Tour du France, cyclists such as Sir Chris Hoy, Sir Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome and Laura Kenny (was Trott) have become household names and an  inspiration to thousands of people across the land. However, way before any of these came along, Britain had Beryl Burton and Beryl was every bit a hero as these fine riders.

Beryl is the fascinating true story of a strong independent Yorkshire lass, who  refused to be beaten and did things her way. She won countless championships, set records, broke records, and managed to stay at the top of her game for 25 years. 

Flora Spencer-Longhurst and Vicky Binns bring Beryl to life, with Longhurst as the child Beryl who contracts St Vitus’s Dance aged 10. The illness caused a weakening of the heart and a loss of control of the limbs. The infection saw the young girl confined to hospital for nine months, as well as having a huge impact on her confidence. 

When she leaves school, Beryl meets Charlie Burton (Chris Jack), a local lad with an interest in cycling. Charlie’s passion becomes Beryl’s obsession and soon she is competing in races, first at county level,  then nationally, and inevitablycompeting at the cycling world championships, all this whilst holding down a full time job and raising a family. 

At first glance this is the classic underdog story we are so familiar with, but dig a little deeper and you couldn’t be further from the truth. This woman was always going to be a success through hard work, guts, determination and sheer bloody mindedness: success was never in doubt.  Maxine Peake’s script is a love letter to this unique, amazing lady filled with warmth, humour and plenty of charm. It ditches the usual sporting clichés in favour of celebrating its subject and having fun.

Under the excellent direction of Kimberley Sykes, the cast of four are in fine form, injecting plenty of spirit into the production and all showing a gift for comedy. Vicky Binns puts in a strong, feisty turn as the adult Beryl  she really gets to the heart of what spurs her on. 

Chris Jack is equally fine as Charlie, turning in a warm, heartfelt performance as the devoted Charlie. Flora Spencer-Longhurst is clearly having fun as the young Beryl and later Beryl’s daughter Denise: her facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. Finally, Matthew Heywood plays pretty much every other character in the play including an overzealous German fan and a rather dour Yorkshire copper. Heywood like his fellow cast members puts a great comedic performance.

All four should be commended for their work as this is a physically demanding show, with lots (and I do mean lots) of cycling, think a spin class with a plot and you’re on the right track! As each cast member dart about the theatre and hop on the strategic placed bikes around the theatre you become immersed in their world.

There is very much a ‘punk’ vibe to the production, cast members often break the fourth wall, coming out of character to address the audience and each other. The use of contemporary pop songs despite not being of that era, and the cast’s DIY approach to special effects creating their own inclement weather using a leather blower and some water pistols give the production a carefree, easy going charm.

This is an inspirational story delivered in a funny, touching but never sentimental fashion. Old and young alike will find something to admire about the show which will certainly leave you wanting to find out more about Beryl and her extraordinary achievements, whilst it may inspire you to dig out your Raleigh Chopper from the shed. Beryl’s story is ripe for a silver screen adaptation so catch it Bolton whilst you can.

Beryl is at the Bolton Library and Museum till the 19thOctober. Tickets available here.

Interview | Beverly Rudd | Brief Encounter

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Not only have we been lucky enough to see Kneehigh Theatre’s stunning production of Brief Encounter ahead of its arrival at the Lowry but we also got to chat with the enormously talented Beverly Rudd who takes on an incredible five roles in this inspired production which has been thrilling audiences at the Birmingham Rep since opening on 2nd February.

Telling the story of star-crossed lovers Laura and Alec, Brief Encounter is a thrilling and visually stunning interpretation of the classic forbidden love story many of us know so well. Lowry audiences get the honour of seeing the show which opens on 20th February before it heads to London’s West End for the summer.

Based on the play ‘Still Life’ from which the much-loved film was developed, the production delivers more depth to the characters surrounding the central lovers offering an opportunity to add multiple layers including a sharp injection of humour. With three love stories rather than just the one each of the cast bring different elements to the piece, Beverly Rudd explained, “There is young love, which is exciting puppy love, also a couple older in years who are finding love for a second time alongside the well-known forbidden love story. They are all totally different, the tragedy of the forbidden love works really well with the comedy of the other love stories, something director Emma Rice does really well, she cuts through really serious moments by adding in great humour, because the story is so intense between Laura and Alec the lightness works brilliantly well.”

In discussing her various roles Beverly explained to us that out of the five parts she gets to play, Beryl is her absolute favourite, “She’s just brilliant, all of them are fun but Beryl has so much to do and gets to sing Mad About The Boy, she’s daft as a brush, it’s really lovely to play someone who is so much fun, silly and giggly.”

In delivering such an iconic film we asked Beverly if the cast felt any pressure? “Yes, but the show is so perfectly constructed that we can’t really go wrong, the production is so brave in its choices, I just love how it is so strong in its direction and identity, I’ve never know anyone not like this show, it’s so perfectly structured it’s got something for everybody.”

Brief Encounter heads to the Lowry after it’s Birmingham run, offering audiences a chance to see the show which has received five star reviews across the board. After this the production head’s to London’s West End with previews at the Empire Cinema beginning on 2nd March. Beverly explained how touring ahead of a West End run is of great benefit to the cast. “This is my third Kneehigh show now and with these type of shows, because they’re so absorbing it takes a lot of work to get the show bedded in, there’s so many quick changes and it takes time to get it right so it’s wonderful to know that what is a great show becomes a perfect show, the show has been in a really good place from the start so it’s really nice to have that time to gel together and experience different audiences ahead of heading to London.”

The show has a real cinematic element which is evident right from the start; “The opening sequence of the show is set within a cinema, there’s a huge screen presenting the show and we’re all dressed as ushers and we’re in the audience before the show starts with Laura and Alec sat in old fashioned cinema seats as the front of the audience, so the show actually starts in the audience and then Laura walks through the screen and appears on the screen. We try and not pull too much focus to them as we’re all singing and playing instruments around the auditorium, it’s nicer if it comes as a surprise to the audience when Laura gets up and the show starts, it’s something the audience just aren’t expecting”

Having performed at the Lowry previously in the first tour of Brief Encounter as well as in Victoria Wood’s enormously successful Acorn Antiques, Beverly is looking forward to taking to the stage on February 20th, “It’s such a gem of a show, it’s really beautiful and clever and I think really surprises audiences who perhaps think they’re coming to see something quite serious. I immediately break the fourth wall with the audience at the beginning of the show which for me feels really nice and lets the audience know they can come with you and experience the joy of the show, it really is something special.”

Brief Encounter on at the Lowry from Tuesday 20th February until Saturday 24th tickets available here. from £16-£35