The Beanfield

★★★★
theatre review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 14 Aug 2015

None of Breach Theatre were born when the Battle of the Beanfield took place. In 1985, police clashed with New Age travellers en route to Stonehenge. Women and children were baton-charged; mobile homes set alight. Five-hundred-and-thirty-seven arrests. Zero convictions.

Setting out to re-enact the clash, and obviously falling short, Breach have put together an engaging, questing documentary, blending devised theatre with Dorothy Allen-Pickard’s handsome films. A sharp sense of the day itself jostles with a self-satirising rehearsal diary. You feel all the affront of state-sanctioned violence.

That sits—rather brilliantly—next to a student’s first Summer Solstice at Stonehenge, so vividly told it smacks of the truth. Her initial impulse is to mock, as stoned spiritualists—some in earnest, others less so—press their faces against the ‘henge to "feel the energy". As drugs kick in, though, so does sincerity.

Did the heavy-handed policing of the 1980s knock the principle out of us? Breach make a strong case with real structural elegance: in dressing up and play acting, they too grow sincere, and it dawns that you’re watching the genuine politicisation of a group of young adults. Several were at a student protest in Warwick when police used CS gas and drew tasers. They play a recording: shrill screams of shock.

There’s much, much more within: the difficulty of getting at historical truth; the psychology (and play-acting) of a police line; the scars an event can leave on a place – all cleverly tied together. It’s hard-hitting too, empathetic and outraged and, frankly, great.