Edinburgh Fringe 2013
A remarkable new drama, written and directed by Philip Stokes, Beeston Rifles is funny, tragic, exultant, and highly dramatic. The story of the death of an impoverished man and the quiet, invisible tragedies that followed in his wake, Beeston Rifles tells the tale of a daughter’s quest for revenge.
Beeston Rifles is about retribution. It pits us, rich and poor, powerful and powerless against one another, and one of us are found wanting. Uncompromising and unflinching, this is the story of Stacey and her brother Frankie and of Polly and her brother Alex. Two sets of siblings from different backgrounds and different places, brought together by the tragic events of one evening. It’s the story of a corrupt justice system, an indictment of all those with money and power who abuse their privilege. It’s a lamentation for the loss of everyone who was born without: without money or freedom, without love or kindness. An anguished production that never spares the rod, this piece of theatre is a rare gem on the Fringe, where drama is a crapshoot at best. This is a piece of theatre that throws down the gauntlet and challenges practitioners of the craft to make better work, and audiences to make a better world.
This isn’t a lesson or a sermon. It’s a love song. It’s crying out in the darkness of an unjust world. It’s a howl, a senseless sob. It’s shaking and weeping when you’re all alone, knowing no one is coming to make things better. Performances by all four cast-members are absolutely stellar. These young performers remind us that most of what we see on other stages is just acting. Investing themselves in their roles utterly, these are not performances but lives we’re witness to. And these are not easy roles. No one is holding back. Stage combat is often one of the weakest elements in productions where health-and-safety gone mad and politeness work together with an unwillingness to go the distance and take a few knocks. It’s as if there is some sort of tacit agreement between actors and directors that ‘the audience will buy it’ and weak performances are allowed to become the norm. Horizon Arts have opted out. The on-stage violence, when it comes, is alarmingly real; the resulting tears totally believable. But the commitment doesn’t end with the physical – these characters are extremes; caricatures of people we know inflated to larger-than-life realism by a script that takes no prisoners.
Despite having an axe to grind, Philip Stokes (writer/director) has given us a well-rounded piece of theatre here. With as many laughs as it has tears, Beeston Rifles takes us on a journey. And like any good journey, there are unexpected twists and turns along the way. This is a play that makes you want to see plays. It renews your hope in the medium after countless deadly productions of Romeo & Juliet and Look Back in Anger have worn it thin. The standing ovation (with more than one reviewer among those on their feet) that followed the performance was more than justified. If you’re skittish of thin, watery theatre from drama students, if you love moving dramatic work, if you’re on the Fringe and want your faith renewed, if you’re a theatre-maker in search of a mark to set the bar by, go to see Beeston Rifles.