Set during ‘the Hamburg Years’ in the early 1960s before the band became successful and world famous, Backbeat centres on the triangular relationship between Stuart Sutcliffe, the band’s original bassist and an accomplished painter, his best friend John Lennon, and Astrid Kirchherr, the beatnik German photographer who Sutcliffe fell in love with. Struggling with his various loyalties, Sutcliffe eventually chose Astrid and art over the Beatles and music.
Sutcliffe handed over his guitar to Paul McCartney just before Beatlemania took off. Shortly after leaving the band, he died in Hamburg, at the age of just 22, of a brain haemorrhage. His portrait featured on the Beatles’ album cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
The film of Backbeat, also co-written and directed by Softley, starred Stephen Dorff as Sutcliffe, Sheryl Lee as Astrid Kirchherr and Ian Hart, currently appearing in the West End in Speaking in Tongues, as John Lennon. No casting has yet been announced for the stage play.
Speaking about the new stage version, Softley said: “When I was making the film, I was also visualising a theatre production of Backbeat, where Stu’s dramatic paintings and Astrid’s stunning photography could be woven into the narrative along with great live music. I am so delighted that, after all these years, we can bring Backbeat to the theatre, and to debut in Scotland where Stu was born.” Sutcliffe was born in Edinburgh in 1940 before moving at the age of three to Liverpool.
The play is produced by Karl Sydow, whose many West End credits include Dirty Dancing, Ring Round the Moon, Dance of Death and Sinatra. Sydow commented: “Iain and I have been talking about bringing Backbeat to the stage for some time, and it was very interesting to see that a lot of the recent media coverage about the Beatles has focussed on the early Hamburg days. Fans should be reassured that the adaptation to the stage will remain true to the film, but we will take full advantage of the possibilities that live performance can bring to a story that features a band, a painter and a photographer. “
Jeremy Raison and Guy Hollands, artistic directors of the Citizens Theatre said they hoped the run at their theatre would be “just the start of the international success of Backbeat.” The stage play is co-written by Stephen Jeffreys.