Shows featuring the music of the Beatles seem to be popping up quite often currently, with Pepperland still in my mind from the Theatre Royal’s offerings in April. Like tonight’s show the producers of that dance spectacular appeared to struggle with the challenge of presenting a show featuring music which we have all grown up with and mostly know intimately. Producer George Martin gave The Beatles such a distinctive and well honed sound that we all have a strong memory of the original recordings.
Tonight’s show is essentially a tribute band night for the Fab Four. The two acts feature pure Beatles songs in the first, and their solo efforts after split up in the second act re-imagined on the pretence that they might have had a reunion concert in 1980. There is no linking dramatic structure, no plot, no story, and the tiniest of voiceover narratives. If you just want to hear a close approach to The Beatles in concert this is for you, even though only a few of this show’s tunes were ever presented live by the band at the time of their creation.
The four chaps who portray The Beatles are all young enough to have been born long after the band ceased to be but each of them is a talented musician who works very hard to give us an accurate portrayal of the famous four. Emanuele Angeletti plays Paul McCartney. Born right-handed he learned to play guitar left handed to play McCartney accurately. Richard Jordan plays John Lennon, with John Brosnan as George Harrison and Ben Cullingworth as Ringo Starr. The four players work very hard to be true to the original sound of the band, and this gives the show one of its biggest problems – there is no feeling of spontaneity or the joy of performing live music. Even the one-liner jokes are carefully rehearsed (and historically accurate) but once delivered they fall with a thud on the floor. There are many moments, particularly in the more fictional second act, where the cast appear to take pleasure in audience interaction, but overall the Beatles suits are more of a straitjacket to the natural creativity of this capable cast.
If you want an evening of well presented music written by (and often never performed live by) The Beatles then this is your show. You will be told when to clap, when to stand up and dance about and the music is just grand. But you will learn nothing about the lives, loves, ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies of this quartet who left the world very different from how they found it. I am old enough to remember buying some of the songs when they first came out, and I remember playing them often at the time, but these are happy memories of a different time in my life, and on balance I would rather not have those memories re-created for me. There are many shows that revive the music of generations gone by, but the most memorable of those shows such as ‘Sunny Afternoon’ about the Kinks’ Ray Davies tell us much more about the real lives behind the stardust, and are better for it. If you want a good singalong with some familiar tunes then this show is for you, but otherwise – let it be!
© Julian Swainson 2019
Let It Be, Monday 17-Saturday 22 June at 7.30pm, and Wednesday and Saturday matinee at 2.30pm. Tickets £10-£35.50. Discounts for Friends, Over-60s, Under-18s and Groups.
To book, log onto www.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk or call the box office on 01603 630000.