Review: Let It Be at the Royal Court, Liverpool
October 20, 2015
When Jeff Parry brought his show Let It Be to the Empire last year, he knew he was taking a gamble.
“I thought, what am I doing, bringing a Beatles musical to their own home town?” admits the Canadian producer, who was sued by his former partners in another Fab Four creation, Rain, which ran on Broadway in 2010-11.
The all-knowing Liverpool audience, however, including John Lennon’s sister and Ringo Starr’s cousin, loved Parry’s new production and now it’s back for a six-week run at the Royal Court.
And judging by the ecstatic reaction of an audience of all ages, many of whom might well have checked in their coats with Cilla Black before twisting and shouting to the real thing at the Cavern back in 1962, Parry has created a stunning show.
The 60s feel is evoked above the stage by two TV sets (black and white, of course) and a giant wireless (kids, a wireless is what we used to call the radio) carrying hilarious adverts for shampoo and Capstan cigarettes.
The show really works thanks to great costumes and casting: four lads from, er, Melbourne (John Brosnan, who confusingly plays George); Rome (Manny Agelletti, Paul); and Birmingham (Luke Roberts, Ringo); along with Paul Canning, who confusingly plays John.
There’s no mistaking the talent and sheer hard work that has gone into rehearsing and fine-tuning some of the best-known pop songs ever recorded and also some over-familiar mannerisms. Understandably, some of the accents are better than others but special mention goes to Canning for John’s bandy-leg stance and witty banter, and Ringo’s boyish fringe-flicking while he’s drumming.
From black and white Mathew Street and a Royal Command Performance (“just rattle yer jewellery”) to technicoloured USA and the Shea Stadium, New York concert in 1965 in front of 55,000 fans scrambling against wire fences, passing out and screaming so loud the band couldn’t even hear the numbers they were playing. Help! Within a year they had played their last ever live concert (not counting the rooftop gig in London in 1969) and turned their psychedelic imaginations into Sgt Pepper.
The orchestral composing was already there in Eleanor Rigby (from Revolver) but now the band were adding Indian sitars, Victorian music hall and surreal and dreamlike story-telling. Random experimentation followed: In his book Revolution in the Head, Ian McDonald describes Revolution 9 (the White Album) as “the world’s most distributed avant grade artefact”; it’s not performed here, which is probably a good thing, but if you’ve not read the book, order it now!
But always there was a connection to ordinary life, a refusal to get carried away with fame and a yearning to reconnect with their roots – the double A side single Penny Lane and Strawberry Fields were rumoured to come out of an idea for a Liverpool-themed album (if only!)
And there’s a warmth about the Beatles that from the start made them equally popular with lads and lasses. Women were always a great inspiration and the longer they made music, the more the Beatles gave them proper names: from the anonymous I Saw Her Standing There, which kicks off the show, to Eleanor, Rita, Lucy, Prudence, Martha and so on, inevitably, to Mother Mary in Let It Be. A fitting finale, for this show, until it was followed by the even more anthemic Hey Jude, who needs to let her in, under his skin, to make it better.
Billed as Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles, this is not a blow-by-blow rockumentary. There’s no mention of manager Brian Epstein (in life or death), producer George Martin or Yoko Ono, but nor is it simply a tribute act. This is a joyous recreation of the brilliant songs and enduring themes that turned a great band into something special, something timeless – fun, excitement, humour, creativity, love and peace. What’s not to celebrate?
Let It Be runs at the Royal Court, Liverpool until November 14 www.royalcourtliverpool.co.uk/