Backbeat (3 stars)

comments (1)

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


  • 3 stars

Iain Softley re-imagines for the stage his 1994 film about John Lennon, German photographer Astrid Kirchherr and 'fifth Beatle' Stuart Sutcliffe. A world premiere by the Citizens Company.


1. Bob Watt18 Feb 2010, 6:53pm4 stars Backbeat Report

4 of us, none of whom are regular visitors to live theatre, were quite excited at the prospect of going to see "Backbeat" and were not disappointed. I can understand Allan Radcliffe's observations; for us, the clever stage set work, the music and, yes, the raw energy, were the most exciting things; for me, the poignancy of Sutcliffe's' situation/ dilemma was fruitful emotionally. Bonus point for one with a lifelong interest in railways was the genuine steam locomotive sound/clouds of smoke under station roof on the backdrop at moments of departure/ arrival - how imaginative!

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