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By Maxine Peake. Directed by Chris Lawson.

Beryl Burton: quite possibly the most successful woman you’ve never heard of.

When actress Maxine Peake was given cyclist Beryl Burton’s autobiography as a gift she questioned why no one had ever written a play about Britain’s unsung sporting legend, and so she wrote it herself. The result is an inspirational tour de force fuelled by rhubarb, northern charm and fierce determination.

As a child doctors told Beryl that she could never take part in strenuous activities due to a heart condition. When she met future husband Charlie, and he introduced her to the local cycling club, her life changed forever.

Proving that she could do anything she put her mind to, Beryl went on to become the greatest woman on two wheels, dominating the sport in the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s: five times world-pursuit champion, thirteen times national champion, twice road-racing world champion, twelve times national champion, British record holder, world record holder, MBE, OBE.

Sometimes it’s the stories that are true that are the most unbelievable.

“If Beryl Burton were French, Joan of Arc would have to take second place as the nation's most revered female icon” – The Guardian.

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Our review on Beryl

Beryl - Oldham Coliseum - Thursday 12th May 2022 by Ian Jones

Our Rating

Despite being one of the most successful British sportswomen of all time, the name of Beryl Burton will be unknown to most people, but her story is one which is worth telling.

Maxine Peake picked up the challenge, in 2012, by writing a radio play about Beryl’s life and this has now transferred to stage. The Oldham Coliseum has certainly come up trumps with this brilliant production of her fascinating story, told in a heart-warming blend of comedy and emotional pathos.

The excellent cast of four actors keep the audience enthralled from the first scene to the final curtain, as they romp through the life of this unsung Yorkshire woman who took up cycling as a casual hobby and went on to be one of the great cycling champions of all time.

Each of the actors anchors a central character but also portrays a myriad of minor characters. The consummate way in which they switch between roles is a joy to behold. One minute an interfering mother-in-law, the next minute a German bellboy with a dodgy German accent, followed swiftly by a long distance cyclist. You get the idea. It’s all delivered in an hilarious way which keeps the audience laughing from start to finish.

The quartet of Elizabeth Twells (Beryl), James Lewis (hubby Charlie), Tori Burgess (daughter Denise) and Charlie Ryan are a superb team, interacting seamlessly with each other. Despite having to undertake some serious bouts of cycling and spinning, they obviously enjoy themselves tremendously and no doubt they’ll all be in peak fitness by the end of the play’s run.

A big shout out to the Director, Chris Lawson and his team for coming up with a clever, highly imaginative set, with the help of the brilliant charity, Streetbikes.

So, our strong recommendation is to get on yer bikes down to the Coliseum before this heartwarming show closes on 21st May. You won’t regret it!

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