Cycling steals the show at two new theatre productions

Beryl Burton and the Man with the Hammer both appear

Cycling has produced its fair share of sporting greats who’ve become legends in their own lifetimes. It’s also a pastime that provokes strong emotions in us everyday cyclists – we all have our own triumphs, our own demons, and our own reasons to ride. Is it any wonder then that the world of theatre has drawn inspiration from the cycling world?


For those who like their drama on the stage as well as on the bike, there are now two UK plays to pick from. The first, Beryl, follows the life of the legendary Beryl Burton – often cited as the greatest female cyclist of all time. The second, The Man with the Hammer, is inspired by the increasing interest in cycling here in the UK. 

Beryl by Maxine Peake

Samantha power as beryl in the 2015 production at west yorkshire playhouse:
Samantha Power as Beryl in the 2015 production at West Yorkshire Playhouse

That Beryl Burton OBE was a cycling legend is in no doubt. Born in Yorkshire in 1937, she took up cycling after her marriage then proceeded to rack up numerous national and international titles and world records. She held more than 90 domestic titles including 13 national championships, five world championships over 3,000m, and held the 12-hour time trial record (male and female) for two years. But, perhaps unsurprisingly for what was a niche sport in the UK at the time, she recieved very little recognition, although on the continent she was widely lauded.  

Written by actor and writer Maxine Peake, Beryl started life as a radio play, but such was the positive reception that it was adapted for the stage to coincide with the Grand Depart of the Tour de France in Leeds, 2014, and returned for a second run the following year in 2015. It draws on interviews with her husband Charlie and daughter Denise, herself a champion cyclist. 

Beryl will play at the Rose Theatre, Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey from 8 to 19 March 2016, with tickets priced from £8 to £26.50.

The Man with the Hammer by Phil Porter

‘The man with the hammer’ by phil porter:

While the UK might not quite be on continental levels of cycling participation and fandom, it’s safe to say the sport is growing rapidly in popularity. The Man with the Hammer follows the stories of three riders: two amateurs and a pro. It’s described by Plymouth’s Theatre Royal as “a powerful story about hope, desire and the dangers of obsession”, which comments on the UK’s increasing obsession with cycling. 

Playwright Phil Porter has numerous credits to his name, with previous work including The Christmas Truce for the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Cracks in my Skin for the Manchester Royal Exchange and ‘Blink’ for the Soho Theatre/Broadway. 

If you’re curious about the title, it’s a reference to bonking – cycling until you are completely spent – as in ‘the man with the hammer came and broke my legs.’

The Man with the Hammer will play at the The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth, from 10 to 26 March, with tickets priced from £10.70 to £14.70.


Would you go and see a play about cycling? Or have you seen either of these plays? Let us know what you think in the comments below.