The actress has written her first play about sporting heroine
She’s the unsung sporting heroine who is finally getting her time in the spotlight, thanks to Maxine Peake.
The actress and star of Silk, The Village and Shameless has written her first play about Beryl Burton, a champion cyclist in the 1950s.
Beryl, now coming to Birmingham Rep, is a thrilling play about the trials, tribulations and loves of the Yorkshirewoman who was five times world pursuit champion, twice road-racing world champion and won an astonishing 96 national titles.
Asked in the 1980s why she continued to ride long distances every week and race against men and women half her age, Beryl replied “because I like cycling”.
In 1967 when she overtook Mike McNamara in a trial on her way to setting a record, she nonchalantly offered him a Liquorice Allsort.
The play Beryl was originally written for Radio 4 in 2012, then staged last year at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
It’s directed by Rebecca Gatward and stars Samantha Power (last seen in Coronation Street as Dev’s friend Talisa) in the title role and Rebecca Ryan (Debbie Gallagher in Shameless) as her daughter Denise, also a cyclist.
Maxine Peake says: “I do a bit of cycling myself and had just gone on to a racing bike.
“But I’d never heard of this inspiring woman before my boyfriend gave me a copy of Beryl’s autobiography, with the inscription ‘Get yourself a tight perm and there’s a film in this for you’!
“I’d never done any writing, but I was fascinated by this story. I started wondering if it would work better on radio, with the whirr of bikes, the click of chains and the sound of tyres on the open road, so I was a bit cheeky and asked the commissioner of BBC radio drama if he would commission me to do it.
“I expected him to say ‘no’, so I could say at least I’d tried, but then he told me to go ahead, so I had to keep at it.
“I wanted to introduce people to Beryl and for them to go away thinking ‘wow, she was some woman’.
“I want more and more people to know about Beryl because I just think she’s so inspiring. So it’s fantastic that the play is going further afield out on tour because her story does have this universal appeal.
“If I ever get another writing commission, I know there are more stories out there of forgotten women, whether it’s in politics or sport or wherever, and if I had a daughter, they would be the sort of role models I’d like her to have.
“Writing for the radio and the stage are things I might not have had a go at when I was younger and scared that I might not be any good at them. But as you get older you get more fearless.”
Beryl plays Birmingham Rep from November 24-28 2015. Get your tickets here