Spunky experimental docu-drama about an infampus police attack on new age travellers in the '80s
The Battle of the Beanfield took place in 1985. It was a violent clash near Stonehenge between police and a convoy of New Age travellers on their way to celebrate the summer solstice at the stone circle. But as an eyewitness points out in this play, the word ‘battle’ suggests something even-sided: in reality, the travellers were subjected to horrendous levels of brutality by a police force twice their number.
And Breach Theatre’s ‘The Beanfield’, which received accolades when it ran in Edinburgh last year, is on one level about the company’s troubled efforts to re-enact the battle on its original location. While the incident never quite became a national scandal, it remains a sore spot for locals, who stonewalled Breach when they tried to gain access to the site. This we learn through video footage, as they dress up in hippie rags and homemade riot gear and practice staged fight routines.
Interspersed with this is a second-person monologue, delivered by each of the six performers, that describes the experiences of the solstice in 2015. Times have changed: revellers are now smuggling in bags of MDMA and paying through the nose for artisan pizza. Is it possible to feel any truly authentic, communal experience when everyone’s watching the sunrise through the screens of their smartphones? A fair point. But when juxtaposed against interviews with people present at – and clearly traumatised by – the bloody events 30 years earlier, all this millennial hand-wringing comes across as a tad wanky.
It’s a curious beast, ‘The Beanfield’: the compromised results of a brave and turbulent project. Ultimately it doesn’t all gel. But what can’t be denied is the ambition and freshness of this young, brazenly political company. Keep an eye out for this lot: I think whatever they produce next will be brilliant.