The Beanfield at Battersea Arts Centre
“A battle is two groups of people equally armed with equal intentions to hurt the other and that’s not what that day was.” These are the words of the aptly named Carol Damaged, an ex-traveller who was at the “Battle of the Beanfield”. Called away from policing the 1985 miners’ strike, officers were tasked with putting an end to the annual Stonehenge Free Festival. The result was an unparalleled wave of bloody violence and what has since been described as an act of organised bullying. Thousands of arrests were made, yet no convictions materialised, and to this day there has not been an official inquiry.
Merging real interviews and video footage with live performance, Breach Theatre set out to mark the thirtieth anniversary of this horrific event back in 2015. In their quest to create a historical re-enactment, the company interviewed the aforementioned Damaged, as well as a police officer and a journalist. The officer describes how the police seamlessly switched from banter to brutality, dehumanising the travellers they beat. The journalist recalls breaking down in tears to his partner, traumatised by what he had witnessed. It makes for uncomfortable yet captivating viewing.
Dorothy Allen-Pickard directs the video components, with Billy Barrett overseeing the live aspects. When multi-media is used in theatre there’s a danger it can appear jarring and grow tiresome. That’s not the case here. The two media effortlessly entwine to illustrate the most vivid picture possible of what happened. A sense of frustration and anger, along with sheer puzzlement, permeates throughout the production.
The cast of six are all on stage together for the majority of the 57-minute running time, often completing one another’s sentences. The dialogue is natural and accessible and the actors bounce off one another very well. A steady pace is also sustained throughout, and every piece of dialogue drives things forward. The climax is perhaps a little lacklustre, but it’s hard to see how else the piece could draw to a close. Regardless, we are left with a torrent of thoughts, educated and engrossed by the material.
The message we take away is that Beanfield was an uneven battle that need never have happened. The company should be praised for bringing attention to it and they certainly succeed in opening our eyes. Theatre is essentially about the human condition, and Breach is unafraid to examine humanity at its very worst as they try, albeit in vain, to make sense of man’s more heinous capabilities.
With the current lockdown, we are all feeling at our most vulnerable, but also our most united. This lends a certain poignancy when watching the play. We are undoubtedly dismayed and disgusted by the appalling acts of the police in 1985, but left with a sense that, now more than ever, such abhorrent actions are unlikely to surface again.
Photo: Battersea Arts Centre
The Beanfield at Battersea Arts Centre is now available to stream on Vimeo. For further information or to watch visit the website here.