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A CurtainUp London London Review
Backbeat

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Paul is the one who can play and George is the one who can change things — John Lennon
Backbeat
Ruta Gedmintas as Astrid photographing the group
(Photo: Nobby Clark)
Backbeat is the back story of the early days of The Beatles before they burst onto the world stage as the most significant pop group of the twentieth century. We first meet a different line up from the familiar one of The Fab Four with John Lennonís (Andrew Knott) friend from Art School Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood) who canít play a note on bass guitar but who in Johnís opinion has the right look for the band so he can learn one chord! Pete Best (Oliver Bennett) is on drums for most of the show until ousted by Ringo Starr (Adam Sopp). Paul McCartney (Daniel Healy) and George Harrison (Will Payne) complete the line up and they venture over to Hamburg to play in a club where Stuart meets and falls in love with photographer Astrid Kirchherr (Ruta Gedmintas).

Originally a film in 1994, this staged production started out at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre early in 2010 and is directed by David Leveaux. Not all the cast look exactly like their counterparts but they all can sing and play guitar (albeit right handed for lefthander Paul) or drums, so there is live music.

The early days in Hamburg see the seedy club they play in and a raw but authentically gritty sound, for "Johnny Be Good", rougher than the recorded music we are used to after the addition of George Martinís unique orchestrations. They borrow tunes from Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis and aspire to the American rock tradition.

The tragedy is a real life one as Stu reports worsening headaches having given up the band for the love of Astrid and fine art. We meet Brian Epstein the future manager, son of a music shop owner and rather well spoken compared to these Liverpudlian lads.

The Hamburg clubs are shown, the first one where they play for an audience of prostitutes, where George loses his cherry and they sleep behind a cinema screen. Later, the more upmarket Hamburg club is filled with stylish poseurs and gender benders but they also come back to Liverpool and play in The Cavern. They are deported from Germany when George is found to be under age.

The lighting is very good and Stuartís scenes often have backdrops of his art, some of his paintings variations on Jackson Pollock. Christopher Oramís designs are beautiful. I liked too the giant blow up backdrops of Astridís monochrome photographs of the band, close ups of Stuart and the steely grey ironwork set. After Stuart, the Beatles develop their individual style and Astridís haircut of a mophead style for Stu is later adopted by the rest of them along with her gift to them of the collarless, grey suit jackets of the Beatlesí early look.

Andrew Knottís John Lennon has the Liverpudlian accent, quick witted humour and charisma we now associate with his unique musical impact. When Knott stands at the microphone he has exactly John Lennonís wide bent kneed stance. We feel the triangle friendship tension between John Stuart and Astrid. Nick Blood is tremendously sympathetic as Stuart. Daniel Healyís singing as Paul is excellent. Together they sound very good indeed and the finale is magnificent: the first Beatles records which soared into the hit parade, "Please Please Me", "Please Mr Postman" and "Love Me Do".

Backbeat is much more than a tribute show or a jukebox musical and much better. There is satisfying true life, biographical detail and David Leveaux has crafted a musical which while being true to the Beatlesí tradition and the memory of Stuart Suttcliffe has us dancing in the aisles to an authentic sound.

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Backbeat
Based on the Universal Picures Film by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys
Directed by David Leveaux

Starring: Nick Blood, Ruta Gedmintas, Andrew Knott, Daniel Healy, Will Payne, Oliver Bennett
With: Rosy Benjamin, Edward Clarke, Josie Dunn, Sam Ford, Ben Fox, Mark Hammersley, Dominic Rouse, Louise Shuttleworth, Adam Sopp, Charles Swift, James Wallace, Jo Dockery
Design: Christopher Oram and Andrew D Edwards
Projection Design: Timothy Bird and Nina Dunn for Knifeedge
Musical Director: James McKeon
Dance and Vocal Arrangements: George Stiles
Movement Director: Nikki Woollaston
Musical Supervisor and OPriginal Incidental Music: Paul Stacey
Sound: Ed Clarke and Paul Groothuis
Lighting: Howard Harrison and David Holmes
Fight Director: Renny Krupinski
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes including one interval
Box Office: 0844 871 7624
Booking to 24th March 2012
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th October 2011 performance at The Duke of Yorkís, St Martinís Lane, London London WC2N 4BG (Tube: Leicester Square)
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