Review: Beryl is a winner at Chesterfield’s Pomegranate Theatre

West Yorkshire Playhouse production of'BERYL'by Maxine Peake'directed by Rebecca Gatward
West Yorkshire Playhouse production of'BERYL'by Maxine Peake'directed by Rebecca Gatward

Smile when you lose, laugh iike hell when you win - that statement of a champion sportswoman resonates through every walk of life.

Whether that motto is fact or fiction really doesn’t matter as it’s message that rang out in a powerful play celebrating the life of a Yorkshire housewife who became the country’s top woman cyclist.

Beryl Burton won the world championship five times between 1959 and 1966 but never made it to the Olympics because women’s cycling wasn’t introduced until 1984.

She set a new 12-hour time trial record of 226.25 miles which to this day remains unbeaten by a woman.

But who even knows of her today? That forms the introduction to that fast-paced play, simply entitled Beryl, which has stopped off at the Pomegranate Theatre, Chesterfield, this week.

The audience are taken on a journey through Beryl’s life cycle, from being laid low by rheumatic fever during her 11-plus exam and subsequent diagnosis of a dodgy heartbeat to how determination and stamina drove her to the top of the sport.

Spurring Beryl in her quest were the words of teachers and doctors who had warned her that failure would mean disappointment and disillusionment and that she had to avoid violent exercise and physical exertion.

Beryl’s triumph against the odds is beautifully portrayed by Samantha Power who clocks up 10k on a static cycle during each performance. Grit and determination, pleasure and pain and a display of jealousy show Beryl’s human side, lightened by lots of laughs as the four actors take on a host of different characters.

Rebecca Ryan from TV’s Shameless shines as Beryl’s daughter who followed in her mum’s cycle tracks to become a champion.

Cheers from the audience last night (Thursday) proved that West Yorkshire Playhouse’s are on a winning ride with this take on Maxine Peake’s heart-warming script.

Even those with little interest in cycling will have their lives enriched by the powerful message in this uplifting play.

Beryl is at the Pomegranate until Saturday, November 14.

Coincidentally, the theatre is screening The Program, a film about disgraced Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong, this Sunday.