Backbeat opens in the West End

October 2011

Projection designers Nina Dunn and Timothy Bird help bring 1960s story charting the birth of The Beatles to life

Time Out 

David Leveaux’s production, transferred from Glasgow Citizens, offers a video montage of hectic paintings and grainy black-and-white imagery, evoking the art of both Kirchherr and Sutcliffe and lending the action a restless dynamism.


There’s a pale intensity to willowy Gedmintas’ performance as Kirchherr. She’s helped by the sophisticated use of video projection to show her passion for both photography and Sutcliffe. A lesser production would have overdosed on her now famous stills. But here, black-and-white video footage is used to establish a tone that is completely in keeping with Christopher Oram’s stark, impressively fluid design.

Projection design specialists Knifedge have unveiled their latest theatrical collaboration in Backbeat – the stage adaptation of Iain Softley’s cult 1994 British film about the birth of The Beatles – which has just made its West End debut.

Set in the early 1960s, Backbeat tells the story of the fifth Beatle and original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe.  As the band made its name in the backstreet clubs of Hamburg, artist Sutcliffe fell madly in love with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr.  Sutcliffe’s struggle in choosing between his best friend John Lennon and the band, or the woman of his dreams and his art, is the focus of Backbeat.  All time Beatles rock ‘n’ roll classics from the era are performed live on stage throughout the production.

Knifedge’s projections – co-designed by Timothy Bird and Nina Dunn – play both a narrative and emotional role in the production.  They bring the work of the two main visual artists to life – Sutcliffe’s paintings and Kirchherr’s photographs. The Knifedge team, which also included Lucy Ockenden, Sam Hunt, Aaron Trinder and Vron Harris, worked in close collaboration with the rest of Karl Sydow’s creative team. The show has been substantially reworked for the stage by director David Leveaux.

“The Beatles’ time in Hamburg provided a catalyst for all the protagonists and their art: Stuart as a painter, Astrid as a photographer and the Beatles as a band,” say Nina Dunn of the Knifedge team. “Our projections aim to represent the emotional importance of visual art to the story, and interweave the idea of how Kirchherr, Sutcliffe, their photographs and paintings contribute to the development of the most iconic band of the 20th Century.”

From a technical standpoint, the need to project onto multiple surfaces has called for a sophisticated rig.  Knifedge is using four front-of-house projectors that are cross-focused to reduce actor shadow and internal set shadow, as well as an on-stage projector.  These are driven by two main Catalyst media servers, with two back ups.  Video is triggered via the lighting desk.

Backbeat runs at the Duke of York Theatre, London from 10th October 2011.  Co-written by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys, the production is directed by David Leveaux and produced by Karl Sydow, with musical direction by Paul Stacey.  Andrew Edwards and Christopher Oram provided the set and costume design, with lighting design by Howard Harrison and David Holmes.  Sound design is by Ed Clarke and Paul Groothius.

Financial Times ★★★★★   

Time Out ★★★★    Metro ★★★★    Evening Standard ★★★★    Whats On Stage ★★★★

Guardian ★★★    Sunday Times ★★★

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