Available on Vimeo, The Battle of the Beanfield is the first show by Breach Theatre, now known for the excellent It’s True, It’s True, It’s True about Renaissance artist Artemisia Gentileschi.
As lockdown watching, it is an interesting exercise in time travel. It’s not often that you can see shows made for live performance five years ago, generally for a reason. Stripped of the moment, setting and context, theatre can appear very different than it seemed to those in the audience on the night. The single-camera view at the back of the auditorium and the dodgy sound certainly undermine the experience.
Breach Theatre used a combination of video and live-action, and the atmosphere was certainly an important element of this show’s success. Reviewed very favourably at the time, it is now more of a context-setting piece for the company’s progression. It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is a much more sophisticated show, and The Battle of the Beanfield in retrospect a much more studenty production.
Breach lighted on the grim and somewhat forgotten day in 1985 when hyped up and tooled up police, fresh from the Miner’s Strike frontlines, were dispatched to stop a convoy of 500 travellers from reaching Stonehenge and stopping the annual free festival. The entirely gratuitous violence they showed – attacking people and animals with whatever they could lay their hands on and burning their homes with their own lighters and taking their children away – is still shocking.
So is the fact that 600 people were arrested and none convicted. It was pure, state-sponsored violence, as a former policeman who was there on the day discusses in detail on video. Breach have also interviewed Guardian correspondent Nick Davies, who travelled with the convoy, and one of the travellers. Together they paint a powerful picture of a dark day for democracy.
Breach approach this through the device of an historic-style battle re-enactment, although it is never clear why they have chosen this. Their attempts make them very unwelcome with landowners at the battle site, and their progress is cut with fictional scenes from a group of friends attending a contemporary midsummer festival at Stonehenge. The main problem is that they seem more interested in themselves than the events they are investigating. We want to know much more about what happened, the context, aftermath and implications 30 years later, but the theatrical devices get in the way. Nevertheless, it is a fine choice of subject from a company who really were just students at Warwick University at the time, exploring the possibilities of theatre and finding their way.