BWW Reviews: BACKBEAT, Duke of York's Theatre, October 10, 2011



Backbeat, the stage adaptation of the film about the Beatles' early years with a focus on original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, is a stylish piece of work. Projections of some of Astrid Kirchherr's famous shots of the group in Hamburg set the scene along with representations of Sutcliffe's art; a stark set serves as club, cinema and college.

This is not a jukebox musical; the songs it includes do not form part of the action, nor are they a central part of it. This is a play which incorporates songs.

Yet although the play focuses on the Hamburg years of the Beatles' career, when they worked as a covers band, the live music (including some of their hits, from Love Me Do to PS I Love You to Twist and Shout) is the real star here. 

That's not to detract from a touching turn by Nick Blood as the tormented Sutcliffe, and some excellent support from Andrew Knott as that thoroughly angry chap John Lennon.

But the production is by no means as good as it could be. The dialogue veers towards cliched melodrama in places (you'll find yourself knowing what the next line will be every so often - just as in every good soap opera), on press night the volume was turned up to deafening levels in the musical numbers (which required some fine-tuning in parts - the bass was ever so slightly out of tune through most of the first act), and some lines were lost amidst a kerfuffle of accent (at least to this reviewer's ears).

In the end, I felt much about Backbeat as I did about Morecambe - I enjoyed it, but I think it was primarily because of the source material. Morecambe was fun and funny because Bob Golding had the exceptional comedy canon of Eric Morecambe to draw on; Backbeat is an enjoyable night at the theatre because it is to hear Beatles music performed by a gifted live band.

That's not a bad thing. I suspect Backbeat will draw in huge audiences for a while to come.

Backbeat is running at the Duke of York's Theatre.

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Carrie Dunn Carrie is the UK editor-in-chief for BroadwayWorld. After spending her formative years reading books and ending up with a Masters degree in English literature from King's College London, it was inevitable that Carrie should be a journalist. Her pure and simple delight in the art-form of musical theatre led to the Guardian asking her to be their West End Girl. Since then, she's picked up a PhD, and also written for many other UK publications, including the Times and the Independent. She has many eclectic loves, including sport, karaoke, reality television, MMORPGs, three-volume Victorian novels, the British seaside, embroidery and Veronica Mars.

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