Beryl Reid’s career covers the decline of variety, the peak of radio comedy and the creation of some iconic 60’s roles. Her personal life, however, lacks the tragedy that makes satisfying drama. Reid coped with not being able to marry the one man she truly loved, never became typecast and worked well into her twilight years. As a result Roll Out the Beryl, written and performed by Elaine Pantling, is perceptive and amusing but not dramatically compelling.
Pantling’s script suggests that Reid was capable of using her professionalism as a barrier to deflect unwanted enquires. Nevertheless Pantling is able to show a contradictory character. Reid aspired to entertain but was insecure about her appearance. She enjoyed the respect that came with dramatic roles but became bored with the discipline of a script and, to the consternation of the rest of the cast, would improvise.
It is difficult to present the range of the actor in a 90-minute show. Only excerpts can be given from Reid’s dramatic roles so they feel under – represented. Her comic routines are presented in full but some are of a vintage that audience familiarity and affection cannot be guaranteed and they have not all aged well. There are some great comic radio shows from Reid’s Heyday – ‘ Educating Archie’ isn’t one.
The direction by Isabel Ford is uneven. She takes an innovative approach to audience involvement: in the first act they are treated as guests at one of Reid’s parties and invited to help cook and consume a meal. This does, however, extend the duration of sketches beyond their natural conclusion. The second act, although less imaginative, is better paced and allows greater biographical detail to be conveyed with no loss of humour. However, having taken Reid to a career peak in the 1960s neither writer nor director seem to know how to end the play and jump to the actor in retirement.
Roll Out the Beryl is an affectionate and perceptive tribute to a great entertainer but might have been more successful as an examination of an era rather than a person.