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Criterion Theatre
Beryl (2023)
Written by Maxine Peake
Sat 2nd September to Sat 9th September

"Criterion’s ‘Beryl’ is a triumphant telling of a triumphant but also poignant tale."

Elementary Whatson

Director – Helen Withers
Production Photos
Beryl Burton – Cathryn Bowler
Charlie Burton and others – Peter Gillam
Nim and others – Jon Elves
Jo and others – Rowan McDonnell
Stage Manager – Steve Withers
Prompt – Claire McDermott
Lighting Designer – Karl Stafford
Sound Designer – Becky Bartlett
Assistant Director – Jean Firth
Lighting Operator – Paul Harrison
Lighting Operator – Verity Gillam-Greene
Props – Sally Patalong
Props – Bill Young
Props – Erica Young
Wardrobe – Pam Coleman
Wardrobe Assistant – Harriet Bowler-WIllis
‘Beryl’ celebrates the extraordinary achievements of the remarkable and inspirational cyclist Beryl Burton. She was five times world pursuit champion, thirteen times national champion; and these represent only a portion of her amazing achievements. Burton was one of the most astonishing sports people ever to have lived, but she remains something of a mystery.
Maxine Peake, captures this remarkable woman in a piece of drama which is pacy, funny and moving. Four actors play a multitude of roles to bring this celebration to the stage.
Reviews of the Production
"the almost full house was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.  This play will have gone some way, in the best possible manner, to giving Beryl Burton some of the belated recognition she deserves.Charles Essex
“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." Anne Cee, ElementaryWhatsOn
Audience Reactions
"a gem of a feel-good production... An all round hit!"
"an informative, heartwarming and thoroughly enjoyable production. All four actors were superb!"
"it was all brilliant, I hadn't imagined that competitive cycling could be so interesting... great direction and casting, excellent staging and Maxine Peake's script never has a dull moment"
"Great ensemble cast working together multiple roles. The technical ability of all four actors giving amazing performances whilst cycling almost non-stop for two hours."


EDI Assessment

In line with our EDI policy, we undertake an EDI impact assessment of all our artistic programming. This play has no central diversity message but does cover the story of a woman's achievement within a male-dominated arena. It can be cast completely neutrally of race/ethnicity. The central story means that the characters should be ideally be playing ages around 20s to 50s. The play is written for two male presenting and two female presenting actors.


Four vintage racing bikes with drop handlebars andback projections set the scene for the biography of Beryl Burton.  If you ask Beryl who? that answers why Maxine Peake wrote this wonderful biography of Britains greatest woman cyclist.  Beryl, who was chiselled out of Yorkshire millstone grit, overcame a serious childhood illness to win countless cycling trophies and break records, one of which stood for 50 years despite the massive technological improvements in equipment available to her successors.

Four actors played all the parts in Beryls life story.  Cathryn Bowler, maintaining a good northern accent, was word perfect throughout, portraying Beryls fierce determination and occasional periods of self doubt.  She realistically depicted the exhilaration of winning, the frustration of losing, although she didn’t have to do that too often, and Beryls joy from just being on a bike.

Peter Gillam was her supportive husband Charlie, happy to do all he could to assist Beryl by helping as her trainer,roadie and mechanic.  He also played some minor parts convincingly and amusingly.  John Elves took several minor roles ranging from the doctor to an East German policeman and had great comic timing.  Rowan McDonnell played Beryls daughter, Denise, who became a cycling champion in her own right, and played several of Beryls competitors.  

Peter, John and Rowan were all excellent, taking turns anarrating the chronology of Beryls life, her achievements, crashes and briefly her fall out with her daughter.  This narration moved the play along apace, reflecting the speed of Beryls cycling.

She was a working class heroine whose day job was on a rhubarb farm and had to make her own way to the race events with no support from the cycling establishment.  There were numerous comic moments, with northern humour interweaved in the plot, and the almost full house was thoroughly entertained from start to finish.  This play will have gone some way, in the best possible manner, to giving Beryl Burton some of the belated recognition she deserves.

Charles Essex

“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.

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 propscomplete each character. I loved the various caps, jumpers, plimsols and pearls.  The projections of landscapes and newsclips were dramatic, timely and evocative.  

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.  
Anne Cee, ElementaryWhatson

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