REVIEW: Backbeat – Duke of York’s Theatre London 19th October 2011

This was one of those times when on the spur of the moment you decide to do something and it ends up being a wonderful surprise.

With weary legs on day two of my London sprint I decided to abandon my previous plans when I saw the TKTS booth in Leicester Square. It supplies on the day cut-price theatre tickets. So with an hour to showtime I saw this on the board and got a seat in the middle of the fourth row of the stalls for a bargain £20 – a third of the full price.

This is no jukebox musical – for the good of the West End it really doesn’t need one. For a start it has been written with care and finesse. It’s an intelligent, multi-layered and ultimately heart-breaking story, an adaptation by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys, of Softley’s 1994 film of the same name. It is more of a play with music than a traditional musical. The transition from film to stage works well here.

It’s an account of the Beatles‘ early days in Hamburg and Liverpool and the“lost” Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe. The epitome of cool, Sutcliffe was John Lennon‘s art-school buddy and a gifted young painter who abandoned the group for art and the love of Astrid Kirchherr, the photographer who took some famous moody shots of the band and originally styled their mop-headed, collarless look. Sutcliffe died aged 21 of a brain haemorrhage, just as the Beatles were on the brink of success.

The actors can certainly knock out a tune and the showhas no problem in evoking an impression of the Beatles’ raw musical potential. They are excellent musicians as well as actors and tear into such period classics as “Johnny B Goode” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” with a brilliant ear-splitting joy.

The throbbing music leads to the inevitable dancing in the aisles, but this show is much more than that. This is an atmospheric, thoughtful production. It’s about love, in particular the love between Andrew Knott’s smart-mouthed, antagonistic Lennon, who claims that all art is “dick”, and Nick Blood’s charismatic Stuart, who sees the band as a sideline and is forced to make the choice about who he should be with and what he should do with his life.

I urge you to go and see this if you can – it is joyous, uplifting, funny, beautifully acted and will bring a tear to your eye. What more could you want?? I can’t recommend it highly enough.

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