Maxine Peake on being inspired by an extraordinary woman…
Beryl Burton. MBE, OBE, five times World Pursuit Champion, 13 times National Pursuit Champion and twice World Road Race Champion. The winner of an astonishing 93 titles.
The greatest woman on two wheels, yet largely forgotten until BAFTA nominated Maxine Peake discovered and shone the spotlight on her story.
Talking to us between performances of A Streetcar Named Desire at Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, Maxine tells us how her play about the unsung sporting heroine came about.
Originally written for Radio 4 in 2012, Beryl was adapted for the stage by the West Yorkshire Playhouse to coincide with the start of the Tour de France in Leeds before touring. A brand new production is now set to take centre-stage at the New Vic in March.
Maxine, star of Shameless, Silk and Dinnerladies, explains how she first discovered Beryl’s story: “My boyfriend Pawlo bought me a copy of Beryl’s autobiography Personal Best for a birthday present with a note that said ‘get yourself a curly perm there’s a film in this for you’.
“We both enjoy cycling and he’d come across the book while buying some parts for his bike on the internet. Neither of us had heard of Beryl before. I read the book and was shocked that I hadn’t heard of this extraordinary woman. I mentioned it to a radio producer I was working with at the time and she suggested I should try and write it. So I did!”
It’s been an ‘extraordinary journey’, she adds: “I’m so pleased that more people have now heard of Beryl but what I was surprised about was how revered she still is in cycling circles. I think also it was an opportunity for people who knew her or knew of her to celebrate her and her incredible achievements.”
Clearly bitten by the writing bug, Maxine says she would like to do more in the future.
“I’ve always wanted to write and initially when I couldn’t get into drama school I thought that maybe was the path to take. I really enjoy it and hope to do more but I’ve still a long way to go.”
She adds: “I did originally have an idea of writing a series of stories for radio about ordinary women with extraordinary lives. I had one produced about the wonderful Anne Scargill when she and three other women occupied Parkside Colliery for four nights in 1993. It was called Queens of The Coal Age and starred Julie Hesmondalgh and Lorraine Cheshire.
“I would like to do more; there are so many exceptional women past and present with stories that need to be told.”
Beryl runs at the New Vic from Friday 3 to Saturday 18 March.