Breach Theatre’s The Beanfield is a curious beast. Some time after watching it I’m still not sure whether what I saw was a live action play intercut with film or a film intercut with some live acting. The so-called Battle of the Beanfield took place in 1985 when new age travellers heading to Stonehenge for the summer solstice were set upon by armed police in a confrontation that had echoes of the ongoing miner’s strike. In 2015 the Breach actors decide to try and carry out a re-enactment of the battle to mark the 30th anniversary which, of course, can never happen satisfactorily, if only because there are just six of them and there were originally hundreds involved.
Instead what we are presented with is a show about the research for and the making of the re-enactment. Very meta and of course in this current iteration it ramps up yet another level. At one point I was watching a screen on which the actors were watching a screen showing a laptop on which the screen was playing an interview with a journalist who was present at the original event. He seems pretty clear that the police were brutal and an interviewed ex-policeman confirms this. This is also the view of the traveller witness – the aptly named Carol Damaged. Somewhat incensed by all this and being told by a local contact to stay away only makes the actors more determined to stage the re-enactment and so they set out for Wiltshire and Stonehenge to join the summer solstice revellers (according to a report in The Guardian 23,000 of them). Unable to locate the actual beanfield they stage their re-enactment anyway.
Intercut with the filmed sequences are narrative sections. I found this a rather desultory business with the actors playing themselves mostly standing stock still in a horseshoe formation. The start of the show is them lined up “reading” various correspondence out loud – a less than enervating beginning to a piece which supposedly celebrates freedom and energy. There’s an attempt to involve the audience by making them a character in the piece. This appears to be a festival attendee having less than a good time worrying about being busted for drugs and having little joy with the toilet arrangements. This approach leads to the narrative being in the second person ….”and then you”… which after about five minutes just becomes irritating. The only scene with any life in it comes towards the end where two performers strip down to their underwear and circle round each other; what this is supposed to indicate I have no idea. And so the whole live part of the show is rather flat and it is left to the screened portions to inject interest.
There’s much use made of Google Maps to represent the journey to Stonehenge although this palls after a few minutes. The filmed interviews are thought provoking enough and the sections where the group try out costumes and make their rudimentary props provide some behind the scenes’ detail. The actual re-enactment section is a heavily edited account of what happens when the troupe get to the Beanfield – except nobody seems to know where it actually is. They film themselves doing it anyway but it is not clear whether anything has been choreographed or they are just making it up as they go along. It all comes across as though they are a group of children play fighting in a playground; one of the participants even discovers that being hit with a baton hurts – who knew? In all I’m afraid it did little more than put me in mind of Monty Python’s Batley Townswomen’s Guild recreating the Battle of Pearl Harbour.
Above and beyond all this is the apparently one-sided nature of the enquiry – it certainly doesn’t work as an objective examination of the incident. Perhaps I am being unfair here and there was plenty of research into an alternative viewpoint and interpretation – if so it is seldom on view. One of the local inhabitants (unsurprisingly) doesn’t wish to be interviewed but that seems to be taken as direct evidence that there was some sort of official cover up or whitewashing. I think probably that the conclusions the actors reach are the truth of the matter but without any sort of balance the suspicion is that they decided on the outcome before they set out on the investigation and then everything was made to fit that theory. Wonderland, streamed from Hampstead Theatre a few weeks ago and which reached similar conclusions about police brutality in the mid-1980s, handled this sort of theme so much better and with a sense of balance. Mind you, that was a play about what happened; The Beanfield is a play/film about a group of people trying to investigate what happened. Laudable but unsuccessful on several levels.
The Beanfield is available on Vimeo. Click here
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