The Beanfield

Breach Theatre Company
Battersea Arts Centre

Breach Theatre Company Credit: Richard Davenport
Breach Theatre Company Credit: Richard Davenport
Breach Theatre Company Credit: Richard Davenport

Breach Theatre Company has done the Home Secretary Theresa May a great favour with its documentary drama The Beanfield.

It provides her with clear and powerful video testimony of a violent crime against New Age Travellers who in 1985 were making their way to a festival in Stonehenge when they were attacked according to the Observer journalist present at the time by grown men carrying sticks. Their vehicles were destroyed and their children taken into care by men who they had just seen hitting their parents. Those who committed these crimes will be easy to find because they were employed at the time as police.

Dorothy Allen-Pickard’s powerful footage of testimony includes a police officer, and travellers who were at the Beanfield in 1985. This is intercut with live action from performers who recreate on stage the process of their research.

The policeman talks about the way police switched from relaxed chatting with each other to suddenly becoming quite violent with the Travellers who they tended to demonise as ‘outsiders’. A reporter recalls crying as he described the events to his partner. One of the soldiers drafted in to support the police admits that the violence so destabilised him that he ended up hitting both police and travellers with a large plank.

However the company doesn’t seem to be able to get English Heritage interested in these historical events which is a pity given that in 1985 they were leading attempts to prevent a festival taking place in Stonehenge.

People living near the site of the attack are also uncomfortable about any mention of the events, one even claiming no one knows where the site is.

Both seem in tune with a general amnesia about the violence that took place that day. There has never been an inquiry into what happened, or a single police officer disciplined for the attack.

No traveller was found guilty of any crime. Yet they were never compensated for their injuries or the property that was destroyed.

The show ends with a striking image. A police officer dressed for a riot swings wildly with a stick. A bloodied female traveller stares across at him. Both look incredibly distressed. In the background, festival dance music plays and a voiceover reminds us of a very different, more peaceful set of events that could have taken place.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

Are you sure?