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The Vintage Guide To London | February 24, 2018

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Theatre review: Backbeat

Backbeat – the adaptation of the 1994 film by Iain Softley on the birth of The Beatles – is now showing at the Duke of York Theatre for its West End premiere. Lena Weber reviews.

I’ve been a massive Beatles fan since randomly watching A Hard Day’s Night aged 14. Today, having read copious of Beatles books and having watched every last snipped of Beatles footage, I’m still in love with their music and just as fascinated with them as I was as a teenager.

This might explain my apprehension about watching Backbeat, a new West End show based on the 1994 film of the same title, which details the band’s first appearance as a night club act in Hamburg and the story of Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon’s artist friend and the band’s reluctant base player. I’ve always thought of Backbeat as a decent but fairly unconvincing film – how could a stage version possibly be a good idea?

Well, to be honest, it is. What Backbeat the film lacks – real energy – the stage show has in abundance, thanks to the great live performance by the excellent cast.They perform the Beatles’ standard Hamburg repertoire of soul and rock’n’roll standards with so much conviction and passion that, for a millisecond, you get a glimpse of how exciting it must have been to have walked into the Kaiserkeller drawn in by the noise and obvious charisma of these five leather-clad kids from Liverpool.

While the minor characters aren’t always convincing, Nick Blood shines as a broodingly handsome Stuart Sutcliffe while Andrew Knott delivers a witty, sarcastic John Lennon and Daniel Healy a convincingly eager Paul McCartney. Sure these are stereotypes but – fifty years on – even those involved only seem to remember things from a fairly rose-tinted perspective.

The story – the Beatles meet German beatniks Klaus and Astrid, Stuart falls in love with her, the Beatles get deported from Germany, \Stu returns only to tragically die from a brain aneurysm – unfolds at just the right pace and the audience is taken through key points, such as Astrid giving Stuart the now famous mop top haircut, without it feeling like mere ticks on the storyboard.

This is a great production that gives centre stage not to the Beatles nor Stuart Sutcliffe’s story but their music and talent, however raw it might have been back then.

Backbeat is now showing at the Duke of York’s Theatre.