This is a compelling piece of documentary theatre that effectively explores the politics of place, state-sanctioned violence and civic freedom
This year is the 30th anniversary of the Battle of the Beanfield, a violent police intervention in which more than 500 travellers were arrested in a field on their way to a new-age festival at Stonehenge. The arrests were justified as a ‘breach of the peace’ with an injunction from the National Trust and English Heritage, but none of the travellers were charged.
A year later, the Thatcher government broadened the definition of ‘breach of the peace’ and it was under this 1986 amendment that students staging a sit-in at Warwick University were tasered and sprayed with CS gas before being arrested and charged.
The Beanfield is an exciting new multi-disciplinary work in response to these events. Theatre collective Breach and video artist Dorothy Allen-Picard have collaborated on this project that explores state violence and cultural heritage.
There are three key strands to this work. First there are the performance-makers who conduct research interviews with people who were present at the beanfield, namely a new-age traveller, a police officer and a journalist. Then there are live performers who ask the questions that were responded to in the video footage. A spoken-word stream told in second person and in the present takes us through one night as a reveller at the Stonehenge summer solstice. While quite funny on the surface (featuring annoying hippies, party drugs in Portaloos and an almost-missed sunrise), it also provides comment on how we engage with such places of heritage today.
Finally, we see the collective’s quest to understand the Battle of the Beanfield through video and live performance. To do this, they journeyed to Wiltshire to find the infamous site on which the violence played out. Using eyewitness accounts and photographs, Breach documented their re-enactment, in which they practiced fight choreography. The cast leave when this footage is played.
It’s a strange thing for a video to make up the climax of a live performance but it’s utterly chilling, particularly when we see one of the performers breakdown, overwhelmed by her emotional response. It’s in this moment that I connected with the power of this piece. A final live scene - spoken-word describing how the Stonehenge solstice rave was given new meaning by a choreography of violence - draws the three strands together.
In some respects the performance had an ‘in-development’ feel to it but that’s not to say that it is incomplete, rather, I suspect it will continue to evolve. There’s room for some of the performers to grow and it would be good to see more of how the police intervention at Warwick University had an impact in the devising process of this work.
This is a compelling piece of documentary theatre that effectively explores the politics of place, state-sanctioned violence and civic freedom. It’s an exciting show with a rawness about it that I really responded to. I hope this isn’t polished away in the future.