Backbeat

Theatre, West End
Recommended
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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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.

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