‘FOR ME THIS IS NOT A BEATLES BIOPIC’
www.list.co.uk/theatre Hitlist THE BEST THEATRE & DANCE*
O Z Z O R O M M T
✽✽ The Price Dynamic production of Arthur Miller’s late play about the aftermath of the Great Depression. Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, until Sat 13 Feb. ✽✽ The Secret Commonwealth Catherine Czerkawska’s reimagines 17th century clergyman and believer in fairies, Robert Kirk. See First Word, page 2. Oran Mor, Glasgow, until Sat 6 Feb. ✽✽ Club Gateways A teaser for a new musical inspired by the iconic lesbian club. See preview, page 60. Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 5 & Sat 6 Feb. ✽✽ Backbeat Iain Softley reworks his 1994 film for the Citz. See preview, left. Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 9 Feb–Sat 6 Mar. ✽✽ The Ching Room / The Moira Monologues Two plays by Alan Bissett. See caption, page 87. Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 9–Sat 13 Feb. ✽✽ Spymonkey’s Moby Dick Irreverent take on Herman Melville’s classic. See preview, page 83. Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 10–Sat 13 Feb. ✽✽ The Government Inspector A new adaptation of Gogol’s classic. See preview, page 84. Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 11–Sat 27 Feb. ✽✽ Rambert Dance Company: The Comedy of Change Joyful new work created by Itzik Galili. See preview, page 83. Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Thu 11–Sat 13 Feb; Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Wed 17–Fri 19 Feb. ✽✽ The Zeros Keep Going Exploration of the effects of pornography. See preview, page 84. Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 11–Sat 13 Feb. ✽✽ Clutter Keeps Company New play about the adventures of a neglected young boy. Tramway, Glasgow, Tue 16–Sat 20 Feb. ✽✽ Neil Labute Triple Bill Three works from the uncompromising American playwright. See preview, page 84. Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 16–Sat 20 Feb.
K R A L C Y B B O N
And the beat goes on This season’s major show at the Citizens Theatre is more than just a Beatles biopic. Writer/director Iain Softley explains why to Jonny Ensall
O ne of a few men to hold the dubious title of ‘fifth Beatle’, Liverpool-raised Stuart Sutcliffe was, for 15 months, bassist with the biggest band in rock’n’roll history. During their residency in Hamburg from 1960-61, Sutcliffe – then John Lennon’s best friend – played his Höfner bass for The Beatles, alongside sideline interests in painting, perfecting his razor-sharp, James Dean-inspired dress sense and new girlfriend Astrid Kirchherr.
Backbeat chronicles Sutcliffe’s decision to choose Kirchherr and an artistic lifestyle over The Beatles, and (with proleptic echoes of Yoko Ono) the resulting friction with Lennon. It’s a story overshadowed by Sutcliffe’s death in 1962 from cerebral paralysis. The play is an adaptation of the fondly remembered 1994 film of the same name, and original writer/director Iain Softley (also director of mainstream movies Hackers and K-Pax) is back 16 years later to helm this world premiere. While not an isolated revival of the Beatles story – Sam Taylor-Wood’s Lennon biopic, Nowhere Boy, is the obvious comparison – Softley’s timing has little to do with cashing in on 50- year anniversary Beatles nostalgia.
‘For me this is not a Beatles biopic,’ Softley says. ‘It’s a story about three people – Stuart Sutcliffe, Astrid Kirchherr and John Lennon – and The Beatles is a backdrop to the story, which is partly what inspired the name, Backbeat.’
More than his creative influence on the band, it’s Sutcliffe’s own passions that have interested Softley. ‘He wasn’t a guy who could have been in The Beatles had he not died, and who also happened to paint. He
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was a major creative force and talent, which is precisely why John Lennon was so fascinated by him, and why their relationship was so intense.’ Capturing that intensity, both in the acting and musical performances of the cast, has been Softley’s priority. It’s telling that stars Andrew Knott (Lennon), Isabella Calthorpe (Kirchherr), and Alex Robertson (Sutcliffe) are frequently described in press releases as ‘connected’ or ‘socialites’. The play is heavily concerned with creating a sense of a scene, one in which the power and freshness of rock’n’roll music matches the youthful promise of its members.
‘I never wanted to reproduce The Beatles sound,’ Softley says of training his cast to play songs as the Hamburg Beatles. ‘I wanted to reproduce the effect The Beatles had on Astrid Kirchherr when she walked into that club in Hamburg in the early 60s. She described to me [in interviews prior to the 1994 film] that it was like a physical assault. I wanted to use whatever means and whatever music would have that effect on the audience.’ Backbeat is full of the universal appeal of both good- looking youth and pounding rock’n’roll. However, the final sad note of the play is still the fact of Sutcliffe’s life, and burgeoning creative potential, cut short. ‘I think that the intrinsic story about the choice that this guy makes between art and rock’n’roll, his best friend and his girlfriend, is a perennial everyman story,’ Softley concludes. ‘I think that he was more talented than his role as the fifth Beatle would suggest.’
Backbeat, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, Tue 9 Feb–Sat 6 Mar.