Breach Theatre On Tour With Acclaimed Theatre/Video Dramatization of the Battle of the Beanfield


Breach Theatre recreate the Battle of the Beanfield in Wiltshire in March 2015 (Photo: Andy Worthington).It’s over 30 years since the Battle of the Beanfield, a notoriously dark day in modern British history, when, under the leadership of Margaret Thatcher, 1,400 police from six counties and the Ministry of Defence “decommissioned” a convoy of around 500 new age travellers, free festival goers and environmental activists who were attempting to travel to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th annual free festival in the fields opposite the stones.

The Stonehenge Free Festival was a wild anarchic jamboree, which lasted for the whole of the month of June, and, in its last few years, attracted many tens of thousands of people, myself included — and the effect on me was so profound that I ended up writing about the festival and the Beanfield (and much more besides) in my 2004 counter-cultural history, Stonehenge: Celebration & Subversion and then focused exclusively on the Beanfield in my 2005 book, The Battle of the Beanfield.

The festival’s violent suppression, in a one-sided rout of heartbreaking brutality, was one of the grimmer episodes in Thatcher’s bleak, eleven-year reign, dealing a crippling blow to Britain’s traveller movement, even though dissent refused to go away, as an ecstasy-fuelled rave scene, the road protest movement and the anti-globalization movement emerged to challenge the status quo in the late 80s and the 90s.

Arguably, the rise of money-obsessed New Labour, the depoliticization that has gone hand-in-hand with the rise of an almost entirely all-encompassing materialism and the commodification of almost everything, and the endless climate of fear cynically introduced after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, have dealt a hammer blow to the intense adversarial nature of the counter-culture from the 60s onwards, but I’m glad to report that Breach Theatre, a pioneering theatre and performance company of young people, emerging from Warwick University, have created ‘Beanfield’, which won the 2015 Total Theatre Award for an Emerging Artist or Company for a tour last year that began at the University of Warwick in June, followed by some London dates in July, Edinburgh Fringe in August, and London again in October.

This year, ‘Beanfield’ is on tour again. Having started in Salisbury on March 24, and Corsham on March 26, the following itinerary runs through to May, and I hope you can make it along to one of the performances. I’ll be seeing it next week at Battersea Arts Centre, and I’m really looking forward to it.

These are the forthcoming dates with links to the theatres:

Home, Manchester: 31st March-2nd April 2016

Battersea Arts Centre, London: 5th-21st April 2016

Birmingham Repertory Theatre: 26th-27th April 2016

Wardrobe Theatre, Bristol: 28th-30th April 2016

The Bike Shed Theatre, Exeter: 3rd-7th May 2016

A “multi-media show about national heritage, state violence and civic freedom,” ‘Beanfield’ involves both performance and film, the former directed by Billy Barrett, winner of the Sunday Times Harold Hobson Drama Critic Award 2014, and the latter by Guardian award-winning filmmaker Dorothy Allen-Pickard. It includes film of a visit to the Beanfield last spring where some events of the day were re-created (and where I was asked along as a consultant), and live performance based on a visit to Stonehenge for the summer solstice last June.

As I explained in an article last June, It’s 30 Years Since Margaret Thatcher Trashed the Travellers’ Movement at the Battle of the Beanfield:

Dorothy and Billy invited me to Wiltshire on a memorable day back in March, to be a consultant as they filmed recreations of the events of June 1, 1985 for the show. The political engagement of everyone involved — mostly students at Warwick University — was refreshing, and it was great to discover that they had all been studying my book in preparation for the filming, which took place at the Beanfield itself.

It was my first visit to this iconic site, although I had passed it many times on the A303, and as we arrived at what we knew to be the approximate location, it became apparent that the change in the road layout since 1985 — with the replacement of a section of the A303 with a dual carriageway — made it difficult to work out exactly where the Beanfield — and the pasture field — were. After driving into the car park of the hotel by the Parkhouse roundabout, we were accosted by an angry local who wanted us to know that, although 30 years had passed, people were still very sensitive about the events of the day.

However, after he was talked down, he pointed us in the right direction, and, while police sirens passed us by, we spent a few hours filming, and reflecting on the events of the day, with — ironically, given the convoy’s environmental leanings — a small solar farm in the background, where, 30 years ago, there would only have been broken and burning vehicles, and bleeding travellers.

‘Beanfield’ is also available as a book, published by Oberon Books, and I’m pleased to have written the foreword to it.

And finally, posted below is a short video promoting the tour:

The Beanfield Tour Trailer from Dorothy Allen-Pickard on Vimeo.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose debut album, ‘Love and War,’ is available for download or on CD via Bandcamp — also see here). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and the Countdown to Close Guantánamo initiative, launched in January 2016), the co-director of We Stand With Shaker, which called for the release from Guantánamo of Shaker Aamer, the last British resident in the prison (finally freed on October 30, 2015), and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by the University of Chicago Press in the US, and available from Amazon, including a Kindle edition — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here — or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the six-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and The Complete Guantánamo Files, an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list, the full military commissions list, and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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4 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    I’m hoping those of you with an interest in Stonehenge and civil liberties will make it along to Breach Theatre’s acclaimed multi-media show ‘Beanfield’, about the Battle of the Beanfield in 1985, when 1300 police under Margaret Thatcher violently crushed a convoy travelling to Stonehenge to set up what would have been the 12th annual free festival. The show mixes performance with film – including recreations of the Beanfield, filmed in Wiltshire last year, which I attended as a consultant – and took the photo here. In Manchester tomorrow, London from Apr. 5-21, then Birmingham, Bristol and Exeter.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

  3. Louise Keeler says...

    Hi, is there any chance you will be adding more dates and venues? We are in the East Midlands and can’t get to any of locations you have listed, but would very much like to see your production.

    I am Lincoln based and we have a ton of venues and arts associated groups I could put you in touch with if you wanted to explore the possibility of extending 🙂

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Hi Louise,
    The performance is nothing to do with me, so you need to contact Breach directly. I’m sure they’ll be interested in proposals for other venues.

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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