It’s a bit of a rarity for a musical to come along that’s got the potential to be universally loved, but in Backbeat, the Duke of York’s Theatre has got just that. Whether you’re the kind of person that loves or hates the idea of Mama Mia, you’ll probably find something to like in Backbeat’s homage to art, rock & roll and the legacy of the Beatles.
Retelling the fab four’s time spent gigging for hours in the Kaiserkeller in Hamberg, Germany, in the early days of their career, Backbeat is filled with early 60s class, from the brilliant music, to the transition from Teddy Boy to Mop Top. The focal point of the play is Stuart Sutcliffe, the fifth Beatle, who played bass with them at the time. Torn between art, music and his relationship with photographer Astrid Kerchherr, the story is a whirlwind of rock & roll proportions.
Based on the 1994 film of the same name, Backbeat moves at pace, building the tumultuous era-defining development of The Beatles in the seedier parts of Hamberg. Nick Blood plays Sutcliffe with all the style and intensity that Stephen Dorff brought to the role in the film, and Andrew Knott puts in a suitably in-your-face performance as John Lennon in his boisterous early life. Ruta Gedmintas adds the acting skills to round off the production well, injecting solidity to the show as Astrid.
Backbeat is loud, crunching, poetic and abrasive, instilled with great live music and perhaps the only sing along ending that would have even the most hardened white van man singing and dancing in the aisles. While there’s not much in the way of look-alike to the faces on stage, there’s definitely a distinctly Beatles feel to it all.
Backbeat ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre throughout autumn and winter 2011 and ended on the 24th March 2012. It then went on to play the the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles from the 1st January 2013 to the 1st March 2013 using the same cast as the London production. The premier of the US show got a big thumbs up from Stephen Dorff who turned up to see how Blood played his former role.
Backbeat, Duke of York’s Theatre review: 4.2/5