• Theatre
  • West End
Critics' choice
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© Nobby Clark

This is no tacky jukebox musical. Instead, it's a striking, absorbing play with music, written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys and based on Softley's 1994 film of the same name. It does, of course, exploit the mythology of the Beatles; but it does so imaginatively, with neither wide-eyed adulation nor slavish adherence to historical fact. The results are dark, thrilling and startlingly moving.

We're in Hamburg, 1960, and the Beatles are still a five-piece. The unfortunate Pete Best – later to be fired from what would become the biggest band ever – is on drums, and Stuart Sutcliffe, the razor-cheekboned, art-student mate of John Lennon, contributes inept bass.

Sutcliffe falls passionately in love with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr – a relationship that puts Lennon's nose badly out of joint and sees Sutcliffe, unaware that his excruciating headaches are warning signs of the brain haemorrhage that will kill him at 21, painfully ensnared in a tangle of conflicting desires and loyalties.

The action is studded with rough-edged, noisy shards of the rock 'n' roll covers that comprised the band's Hamburg sets, and David Leveaux's production, transferred from Glasgow Citizens, offers a video montage of hectic paintings and grainy black-and-white imagery, evoking the art of both Kirchherr and Sutcliffe and lending the action a restless dynamism.

And the performances are infinitely richer than mere impersonation, including Andrew Knott's viciously witty Lennon, uncompromisingly ambitious, and Nick Blood an affecting Sutcliffe, vulnerable, vain and cocky all at once. Fab.

Average User Rating

4.5 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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1 person listening
f. safiri

Dazzling! Production is mesmerising and so utterly absorbing. Thank you Karl Sydow and well done to all those involved in offerring us this wonderful musical.


A fun, intelligent production - it didn't set my world on fire but the staging and musical performances were fantastic and the story very enjoyable. It's shame that this is closing early (tho it seemed totally full when we were there), when unimaginative jukebox drivel like We Will Rock You goes on and on and on...


Opening at The Duke of York Theatre, Backbeat tells the story of how The Beatles first formed and their first ever tour of Hamburg, Germany. John, Paul and George were joined by Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best who travelled from Liverpool to the seedy red light district in Hamburg in search of success. A complex triangular relationship between Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood), the striking German photographer Astrid Kirchherr (Ruta Gedmintas) whom he fell in love with, and his best friend John Lennon (Andrew Knott), became an intrinsic part of The Beatles’ story. I am a huge fan of The Beatles and didn’t know much about their early story and the other members that helped form the band we all know and love. This production is directed by David Leveaux and features all-time rock ‘n’ roll classics including Love Me Do, P.S I Love You and Twist and Shout, all performed live on stage by the cast. Though dark at times, there are plenty of moments of light relief and the music flows throughout the 2 hour show, with a big finale of songs that had me dancing in the aisles! Backbeat really gets to the heart of Stuart and John’s relationship and how, along with Paul McCartney (Daniel Healy), George Harrison (Will Payne) and Pete Best (Oliver Bennett) who contributed to make The Beatles the biggest band the world has ever known.


I was visiting London from Canada and my daughter and I went to see this show. I loved it from start to finish. Thought the actor playing John had him down pat and the actor playing Paul really sang like Paul - not sure he acted his personaility as well. I was really pleased to see the Sutcliffe/ Lennon relationship played out - I was 9 in 1960 so my most vivid memories of the Beatles really begin in 1963/4. It was a treat to see this production and I hope it is still playing when I return - would see it again in a heartbeat!!


Amazing production! Nick Blood (who Plays Stuart) took my breath away! Wonderfully touching and moving performances by all - kept me rivited to my seat. I laughed, cried and danced the night away. So good, I went back a second time - and was just as moved as the first! This show is "not to be missed!"

lou wright

Fantastic show, Very talented actors, Dancing at the end to Love Me Do, Great night, I want to go again