Back in the early sixties, the Beatles were a five-piece skiffle/blues covers band featuring John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, bassist Stuart Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best. Both Sutcliffe and Best legitimately lay claim to the sobriquet 'The Fifth Beatle' although in 1960, one or the other must have been the fourth.
The five-piece famously visited Germany regularly between '60 and '63, playing the smoky clubs of Hamburg and honing their style. It was during one Hamburg trip that Stuart Sutcliffe met photographer Astrid Kirchherr (who took some famous shots of the band) and fell in love.
The pair were later engaged and Sutcliffe began to feel more at home amid the German art scene than his native Liverpool and, in 1961, he left The Beatles. Paul McCartney picked up the bass and five became four. Subsequently, Pete Best would be sacked from the band and replaced with Ringo Starr, the 'sixth Beatle'.
Sutcliffe was never to fully appreciate the role he had in The Beatles as, just seven months after leaving - and before the band's late '62 breakthrough with 'Love Me Do' - he died. Sutcliffe's new passions had been art and his fiancée, and it was while studying the former in the home city of the latter that he started getting severe headaches and collapsed. After a brief recovery, he later died at Astrid Kirchherr's parents' house due to a brain aneurysm. He was just 21.
Sutcliffe's death is said to have haunted Lennon throughout his life but, for the public, the tale of the Fifth Beatle was a matter of backstory and a footnote to the headlines of Beatlemania, Sergeant Pepper, John and Yoko, Revolver and being 'bigger than Jesus'.
In 1994, the film Backbeat sought to shed some light on the band's pre-fame days and was an acclaimed study of the relationship between Sutcliffe, Lennon and Kirchherr with the inevitable musical soundtrack. The musical does not feature any original Beatles material however, focussing instead on the blues and rock'n'roll covers the band performed in the early days.
The tragic tale of Stuart Sutcliffe and the uplifting broader story of The Beatles made for a poignant, bittersweet tale that struck chords with audiences, although it was reported that neither Paul McCartney nor George Harrison liked it. One suspects John Lennon may have approved of his friend's tale being so affectionately told.
Seventeen years later, Backbeat is returning as a stage show, retold by the original writer and director of the film, Iain Softley. Backbeat premiered at Glasgow's Citizen's Theatre in 2010 and the production now moves to the West End in the autumn.
Backbeat is playing at the Duke of York's Theatre from 24th September 2011, booking until 24th March 2012.
We have tickets for all shows available now, priced £55 for weeknight performances and £57.50 for Friday and Saturday night shows.