> Bristolian playwright Shaun McCarthy’s tale of life on the road rolls into town…

The event upon which Shaun McCarthy’s play is based occurred on Saturday 1st June 1985 and is commonly referred to as the Battle of the Beanfield.

When police attempted to stop a convoy of, in the words of the programme notes, ‘new age travellers’ from attending the Stonehenge Free Festival a riot broke out and officers attacked the procession, injuring hundreds and forcing them to flee to a nearby beanfield where they were arrested.

The events depicted are based upon the accounts of several individuals who were members of the convoy and are relayed through the narrative of a traveller named Steamer (Ben Crispin), whose relationship with Annie (Katie Villa), an upper class girl on the run, provides an engaging sub-text that serves to highlight the class battle at the heart of the tale.

Whilst Crispin’s portrayal is powerful, earnest and often amusing, Georgie Reynolds steals the show as Diane, a working class girl who inadvertently joins the convoy during a night out. Reynolds’ convincing West Country accent reminds the audience that the events depicted occurred close to home and consequently draws them into the imaginary convoy, ensuring that a cast of five actors is more than adequate.

Bennie (Ben Simpson) and Lex (Eli Thorne) are also along for the ride, representing a more sinister side of the traveller’s life through their involvement with drugs and anarchy. However, Simpson’s performance as a narrow-minded working class tourist from Birmingham, who gets caught up in the convoy, and Thorne’s depiction of an angry police constable, who spews Thatcher’s rhetoric in a manner that turns the stomach, provide a claustrophobic political context that at once enhances the scope of the production and encourages the audience to side with the travellers.

The threadbare set and sound effects, provided by a man sitting in an old car seat at the side of the stage, ensure that the characters and the narrative, into which they are neatly woven, carry the burden of enlivening a story that is simple, yet sincere. With the assistance of a handful of Shakespearean quotations, numerous verbal assaults on Thatcher’s reign and some genuinely amusing dialogue they succeed and the boos and hisses drawn from the audience by the angry constable’s diatribe about an individual’s right to freedom reiterates the timeless relevance of the writer’s message.

In fact, Shaun McCarthy’s programme notes reiterate the sentiment of those involved in the Battle of the Beanfield, ‘that people should be free to live how they wished, and that a happy life did not automatically equate to a healthy bank balance’, the essence of which is captured by his characters who are bold, genuine and at times a little rough around the edges, much like the play itself.