Iain Softley’s 1994 film Backbeat charted the pre-stardom career of The Beatles, focusing on the relationship between John Lennon, his best friend and fellow art student Stuart Sutcliffe, who succumbed to a brain tumour aged 22, and Sutcliffe’s lover, the Hamburg photographer Astrid Kirchherr. The classic fusion of sex, tragedy and rock’n’roll is sufficiently appealing to warrant a stage adaptation, but in Softley’s own production for the Citz, the central love triangle spectacularly fails to excite.
Part of the problem stems from the uneven adaptation. We are told repeatedly, through needless expositional monologues delivered by peripheral characters, of Sutcliffe’s magnetic appeal, artistry, studied cool and exceptional talent as a painter, but none of this particularly comes across, either in the writing, or in Alex Robertson’s rather listless performance. Isabella Calthorpe as Astrid suffers from an underwritten role that too often leaves her spouting corny platitudes in a robotic German accent.
It’s left to a compelling performance from Andrew Knott (who also benefits from the sharpest lines in the script) as the pugnacious, driven Lennon, while the extended musical sequences set in Liverpool’s Cavern and in the Hamburg clubs, goes some way towards communicating the band’s raw energy and the excitement of the times.
Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, until Sat 6 Mar