The Beatles are celebrated as the most successful pop music group in history. They captured the sounds and changing attitudes to music throughout the 1960s, and had a career that’s inspired people all over the world. In recent years, there’s been a new opportunity for people to experience The Beatles’s music in the form of Let It Be, a theatrical concert that celebrates their music and journey through the 1960s. Now embarking on a new tour of the country, I couldn’t wait to experience the music of one of the world’s most treasured bands in one of my favourite places: the theatre!
Before we go any further, we need to talk about what kind of show we’re actually seeing here. I think there’s a lot of confusion about what Let It Be actually is; it’s billed as a “celebration of the music of The Beatles” and nothing more. So if you’re coming to this show and expecting it to be akin to a musical such as The Buddy Holly Story, then you’re looking in the wrong place. Let It Be is a group of musicians dressed as The Beatles performing their catalogue. There’s no narrative or action as such – it’s pretty much a tribute show.
So if you look at it like that, then Let It Be is pretty good. The multitude of songs are played very well by the band, which includes musicians like Emanuele Angeletti and Paul Canning. They capture the evolving sounds of the band nicely too, and work well as a tight ensemble that delivers excellent music.
There are also some well-considered costumes, which perfectly capture the different stages of The Beatles’s career. Beginning with them suited up in Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club, we see them don many outfits, including the colourful, psychedelia-drenched garments of the Sgt. Pepper era to the casual, stripped back Abbey Road style.
In terms of set design, there’s nothing spectacular – or, really, anything – happening here. There’s a drum kit rooted centre stage, home to one of the Ringos, and the rest of the performers just stand in front of it in a line, occasionally moving about a bit. Transitions between the musical eras of The Beatles’s extensive catalogue are covered by a safety curtain that comes down after each era. There are two flat 60s-style TV screens on either side of the proscenium arch, which show a mixture of archive footage of fans, nostalgic TV adverts from the time and a live video feed of the action on stage.
There’s also some great visual design happening on the back screen behind the performers, which complements the songs and era of The Beatles’s music being played. Combine this with Humphrey McDermot’s lighting design, which energetically illuminates the performers, and you get a nice overall visual aesthetic for the show.
Of course, to try and make the production a bit more theatrical, there is occasionally some banter between the performers and the audience. And by banter, I mean a few moments that don’t have confidence behind them – including Lennon’s Royal Variety Performance remark to the audience about the people in the cheap seats clapping and the wealthier ones rattling their jewellery. It all just feels forced and a bit awkward.
As I said earlier, if you’re looking for a proper musical that charts the career of The Beatles in a new, exciting and live way, then this isn’t the show for you. But if you’re looking for a production that simply showcases the music of one of the world’s most iconic bands, then this could be for you.
Let It Be is playing at the Grand Opera House, York until 9 April and continues on tour. For more information and tickets, see the ATG tickets website.