A Life With the Beatles at the Fringe Festival

Thu 6th – Sun 30th August 2015

reviews

Llewelyn Hopwood

at 10:00 on 23rd Aug 2015

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A Life with The Beatles is a wonderfully fascinating tribute to a wonderfully fascinating band. As we follow the band’s road manager, personal assistant and President of Apple Corps, Neil Aspinall, we are given an artistically detailed description of some of the most famous and not so famous landmarks of their development from a unique perspective that will excite any music fan – Beatles or otherwise.

While this is truly a must-see for the Fringe’s Beatles fans, the way Stella Danzante Productions forges sound-bites with information and observations from a writer who was clearly also a big fan should put this play on any music nerd’s itinerary. How we are lead through all the intrigues of some of the band’s most famous songs is an eye-opener; the detailed account of the inns-and-outs of recording ‘A Day in the Life’ at Abbey Road, with respectable orchestra musicians playing about with red noses and funny hats, is particularly memorable.

This brings us to the point of how A Life With The Beatles should be seen as a model for all biographical monologues in terms of fusion of historical details and creative presentation, for it manages to be a work of art that doesn’t allow itself to be swamped by information and facts.

On the other hand, one cannot but feel that sometimes the writing falls into the traps of clichéd one-man shows - the dramatic quickening of pace that opens with “Liverpool: 1959!”, for example. Indeed, the pacing overall is somewhat incoherent with a slow start and then a stop-start movement throughout.

Ian Sexon, who plays Aspinall, doesn’t help this jagged pacing with a portrayal that sometimes comes over as jumpy and somewhat illogical. However, this actor’s strength lies in the complexity of imitating other characters in the shoes of Neil Aspinall - from Pete Best to Brian Epstein to Mick Jagger. One forgets that this is a one-man show due to Sexon’s flexibility of character that allows a myriad of vivid characters to be on show.

On the whole this is a delightful journey through the lives of the unsung heroes of The Beatles’ success, as well as The Beatles themselves, and thus it was no doubt I left the theatre singing Beatles songs and dying to get back to my room and listen to all of their work until the early hours of the morning.

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Josie Finlay

at 10:31 on 23rd Aug 2015

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I came away from A Life With The Beatles feeling a bittersweet nostalgia for an era that occurred over three decades before my existence, and also having actually written down the words ‘OMG how good were the Beatles’ in my notebook about halfway through the play – two occurrences that are testament to the skill and energy of the production’s star Ian Sexon, as much as of the foursome themselves.

Told from the point of view of the Beatles’ ultimate fly on the wall, roadie Neil Aspinall, A Life With the Beatles is a one-man show that remains captivating throughout, expertly manipulated by the versatile, lively Sexon. His performance is complete, with an impressive range of accents that are at once convincing and tongue-in-cheek; his impersonations are perfectly pitched, straying neither into the realm of caricature nor of hackneyed homage.

Especially enjoyable are Sexon’s impressions of band members deep in the throes of hazy hallucinogenic-addled inspiration – he incorporates a respectful intimacy into the humour that gives the audience a sense of being privy to genius at work. Sexon’s rapid transitions between characters make for exhilarating watching – his slick ability to manoeuvre between accents and personas is breathless, but never strained.

While the piece is set out chronologically, there isn’t an overall feeling of a logical or linear progression. Certain important parts are skimmed over – whole years, especially the latter ones, remain untouched – while some events are given a focus that might be construed as disproportionate, most notably the construction of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, which constitutes a significant stretch of the play.

But this erratic form seems suitable for a piece that illustrates the frenzied highs and lows that the band carried in their wake. The complete power of Beatlemania is particularly thrown into relief at the reading of manager Brian Epstein’s suicide note – “This is all too much and I can’t take it any more” – a poignant moment of stillness against the frenetic energy of the rest of the play.

The piece’s weakness lies in its rather amateurish set design. An interesting analysis of the album cover design of ‘With The Beatles’ loses some of its gravitas when it is illustrated by a budget photocopy of the image, poorly endowed with pixels and pasted onto a mediocre black and white collage of Beatles memorabilia. However, these visual quirks aren’t prominent enough to detract from a lively performance interspersed with tantalising song extracts and the occasional ecstatic burst of audience singalong – a perfectly immersive encapsulation of the hysteria of Beatlemania.

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