Set in a dingy living room in a Leeds suburb on the eve of a new year, Beeston Rifles delivers an exhilarating experience that is one part revenge to two parts tragedy. The play opens with the premise of a game, which despite the fancy-dress costumes and a Christmas tree will prove neither playful nor enjoyable. This is indicated by the presence of a gun in the hands of Stacy the game-maker (Kate Daley), plus her bound and gagged victims Polly (Kirsty Green) and Alex (Ryan Hogan) quivering on the couch dressed up as Snow White and Prince Charming respectively. Manipulative, volatile and intensely disturbed, Stacey forces her prisoners through a series of ‘rounds’, promising as the culmination of the game an ‘execution’ as revenge for her father’s death for which Polly and Alex are responsible. Stacey’s ‘glamorous assistant’, as she calls him, is her mentally disabled brother Franky (Lee Bainbridge), a fully grown man dressed in an angel costume who evokes pity, revulsion and the occasional laugh from the audience.
Beeston Rifles asks perturbing questions about justice and family as well as societal and individual violence in this gripping, emotional rollercoaster of a show. Aided by the excellent script and overall stellar performances, you are transported through a plethora of states; discomfort, pity, anxiety, laughter and tension. Lots of tension. While the play keeps you almost permanently in a state of suspense, it still manages quick breaths of humour and vulnerability without ever becoming grating.
Special commendation must be given to the standout performances of Daley and Bainbridge, which were captivating and explosive. Daley carefully controlled the tension of the scenes with the power and manipulation with which she wielded her gun, cultivating a strong atmosphere of danger and disorder. She also employed impressive subtlety through glimpses of her character’s vulnerability and the authenticity of her complete emotional breakdowns. Bainbridge provided a foil to Daley’s Stacey, exhibiting real versatility with the creation of a character so pitifully innocent one moment and threatening the next. In addition, their brother-sister interaction poignantly played on the resentment that can come from family ties.
Although not a play for everyone, particularly not for the faint hearted, I would highly recommend Beeston Rifles. It engages you aggressively from the moment the stage lights come up with its twists, turns, abrupt accelerations and sudden stops. Emotionally draining, relentlessly tense, an absolute adrenalin surge: this play will hold you at gunpoint from start to finish.