Memory Lane in ears and eyes

Let It Be

The New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

****

ASIDE from The Complete Works of Shakespeare and a gigantic Steven King novel, the thickest book on my bookcase is The Beatles Song Book. Testament indeed to the impressive output of tunes written by the fab four from their beginnings in The Cavern Club to their final performance in 1969 on top the Apple building.

Some 40 years on, the enduring appeal has hardly faded. Easy pickings, it would seem, for producers to make tidy profits on the back of a pile of universally popular songs.

A number of stage plays have explored the relationship between John, Paul, George and Ringo. Some have offered insights into their fascinating and colourful world. This production offers none of those things. It doesn’t try, to be fair.

Let it Be is essentially a tribute band concert. It may well be the best tribute band concert you will ever see -immaculately staged, pitch perfect vocals, excellent musicians and a perfect sound mix - but there is no getting away from the fact that it’s a concert. No back story, no interweaving scenes - just a sound alike band playing good songs, in succession, very well.

As a piece of theatre, it’s basic to say the least. As a concert, assuming you like The Beatles, it’s hugely entertaining.

Technically, its employs every bell and whistle in the book.  Huge, 60’s style TV’s show flickering footage of old adverts, news clips and popular programmes of the decade. Psychedelic images are projected and live cameras show band members in close up. Even the audience get to be ‘on stage’ as a roving camera projects random audience members on to the backdrop. Quite cool if the random audience members resemble Brad Pit or Angelina Jolie. Less cool if it’s an unsuspecting 50 year old looking awkward and wanting the ground to open up.

There lies my issue with this kind of ‘ show’ in a theatre. There is something a little odd about a band playing some of the catchiest, on your feet songs ever written to a crowd of people sitting in rows eating Minstrels. Yes, they are asked to stand up and clap along but it’s all a bit clumsy and, for anyone over 5ft 6, somewhat cramped. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good gig with the rest of them, but in a hall, with a pint and on my feet.

Musically, its almost perfect. It’s doubtful the Beatles themselves could have achieved this kind of sound quality with the p.a. systems of their day. It’s a joy, then, to hear these songs sound so pure and harmonized. The band members, themselves, alternate. From a main company of 12, five are featured for each performance. The five on this particular night were accomplished and tight as a drum. Each of them achieving the nuances of their Beatle beautifully. Not look-alikes as such, but more than a passable representation.

From the jingly jangly numbers of the early 60s, through the flower power genius of Sergeant Pepper and the rockier edge of Abbey Road the story is well told, both musically and visually. An avalanche of animated strawberries accompanying Strawberry Fields Forever is a sight to behold and may well have made some of the audience question what they have been smoking.

By the end, there is little doubt what the audience feel. Shouts for more keep coming. As arms sway to Hey Jude and middle aged audience ladies form strong (but wrong) backing groups all around me, it is clear they are being royally entertained.

It’s simple. If you like The Beatles , you will love this. If you want to be challenged, opt for Ibsen. To 22-03-14.

Tom Roberts 

 

And with a ticket to ride

****

IT’S a strange experience watching this sparkling tribute show to the Beatles and their iconic music.

The Fab Four used to appear in front of thousands of screaming teenagers all over the world, but here the audience consists mainly of mums and dads, grandfathers and grandmas, with memories.

And when they are asked to get on their feet for the first time to join the band in Twist and Shout, the majority do so, but with no great speed!

This is not a story about the Beatles, although plenty of old films of the Liverpool lads getting huge receptions, particularly in America during the height of Beatlemania, are flashed on to four TV screens spread across the front of the auditorium.

What the audience get is four young men in black wigs playing guitars, drums and sometimes a piano as they go through hit-after-hit from the Beatles rock ‘n’ roll era.

Twelve musicians share the roles, and on opening night the lads were superb, opening on a set representing Liverpool’s Cavern Club and later returning to the stage in the colourful Sgt Pepper costumes, then, towards the end of the show, the wigs get longer and the style of music changes.

But how the customers loved favourites like Eleanor Rigby, Ticket to Ride, Strawberry Fields, She Loves You, and the big finish with Let It Be and Hey Jude.  Easy to see why the real Beatles were so idolised. To 22-03-14

Paul Marston 

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