While I am obviously (hopefully) too young to remember The Beatles in their day, I certainly hadn’t realised quite how well acquainted with their music I’d become.
You’d have to have lived under a rock to not have been subconsciously indoctrinated with their hits – whether through the original versions or covers, The Beatles’ back catalogue is the soundtrack to our lives.
With a track list of more than 40 of their hits, there were only a few which I didn’t know the titles to and perhaps one or two I’d not actually heard before.
But that’s the beauty of Let It Be... There’s no plot to it, it’s the music pure and simple, a ‘theatrical concert’ as the posters claim, with a few nostalgic film clips and quotes from the Fab Four themselves for good measure. A minimal amount of banter between the cast and audience helps retain the feeling of a concert rather than a ‘musical’ in the traditional sense of the word.
The show charts the band’s rise recreating key performances from Liverpool’s smokey Cavern Club to the Royal Variety performance, to the legendary Shea Stadium gig and the release of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in the first act.
From this final section through to the end of act two the audience embarks on a Magical Mystery Tour, into the psychedelic, flower power ‘daze’, for the concert-that-never-was – as The Beatles gave up touring in 1966 to focus on studio projects, which lead us to the closing Abbey Road acoustic and amplified sets.
The short films help transport you back to the heyday of Beatlemania, via key moments of the time – the 1966 World Cup and Vietnam War among them, as well as some comical adverts... Who knew cigarettes could be so readily promoted? Well, not the person sat behind us, anyway.
Each set is accompanied by a speedy costume change, including wigs and facial hair for the four, played by James Fox as Paul McCartney, Paul Canning as John Lennon, Paul Mannion as George Harrison and Luke Roberts as Ringo Starr – who all play their instruments live throughout, accompanied by Ryan Alex Farmery on keys.
Among the musical highlights – and there were plenty – was what appeared to be a nice nod to Blackpool’s part in The Beatles’ story; the debut performance of Yesterday was screened during a TV special filmed in the resort’s ABC theatre in 1965. As the cast left McCartney on stage for the solo, the track was introduced as ‘the B side to the A side written by the seaside, probably down the road’.
The audience didn’t need asking twice when called upon to get up and dance to Day Tripper from Shea Stadium, and from that point on the buzz of chatter and singing along showed the fourth wall was not just broken but utterly shattered.
One of the best receptions of the night went to the ‘quiet one in the middle’, namely George, for While My Guitar Gently Weeps, even without guest artist Eric Clapton on lead guitar as it was originally recorded.
And by The End, the audience was under their spell, with a rousing encore closing the night in fitting sing-along style.
As someone who didn’t live through the era, I would have enjoyed a more biographical approach as there are undoubtedly stories to be told about the band’s formation and how it all ended.
But judging Let It Be for what it is, a nostalgic trip – pun intended – back to Beatlemania, performed by a talented and hard-working cast, you’re in for a great night’s entertainment.
n Let It Be is at the Opera House until October 12.