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Review: Bestbeat at the Unity Theatre ***

Sir Paul McCartney may have been at the Palace this week being made a Companion of Honour by Her Majesty. But in Liverpool this spring it’s all about Pete Best.

The former Beatle drummer, sacked as the band was on the cusp of stardom, has been appearing in a cameo role in Lennon’s Banjo at the Epstein Theatre.

And up the road in Hope Place, he’s the central subject of a play with music – Bestbeat – premiering at the Unity Theatre.

Of course, it’s not the first time the musician and his story have been celebrated on stage. Twenty years ago Dingle writer Fred Lawless penned BEST!, a fictional comedy about what might have happened if the unwanted drummer had gone on to be a global rock superstar.

Here, though, he’s only half the story, written and directed by Francis Duffy, a veritable one-man band – although also part of a four-piece group who play his original songs on stage throughout the show.

Because Bestbeat, set during the heyday of the Merseybeat scene of the early 60s, is also a homage to the music that filled the city’s clubs and a celebration of the music fans (like my teenage aunt) who flocked to venues like the Cavern to hear it on their lunch breaks or at night.

They’re embodied by Pat and Cathy, played by Faye Caddick and Leah Wallace, best friends who both have the hots for Pete (Andrew Games), the strong, silent, rarely-smiling beat behind the Beatles’ irresistible live sound.

Of course, with two women lusting over one man, it’s almost inevitably going to end in tears and recriminations. But then in the midst of the angst comes that seismic moment in Best’s life and the Beatles’ history.

Andrew Games (Pete), Leah Wallace (Cathy) and Faye Caddick (Pat) in Bestbeat

Set against an evocative backdrop of scrolling images from those heady days, Bestbeat is part-monologue, part-play, part-gig, the action punctuated by numbers, some of which are fully-formed songs, and some more scene-setting Merseybeat mood music.

They’re played with the energy and groove that the action, which often feels rather disjointed, currently lacks.

Best narrates his own take on what happened, and explains his passion for his craft, in addresses made directly to the audience. But the monologues often feel less passionate than ponderous, and they’re packed with……pauses, which kill the pace of the plot.

This is a directing rather than an acting issue which is easily resolved and would make a huge difference.

The scene where Pete pays his fateful visit to Brian Epstein’s office is much more dramatically lively. And the fact his devastating encounter is with a cold, disembodied voice – the Beatle machine already distancing itself – is particularly effective.

There’s also plenty of life in the moments which involve all three characters, including a hilariously awkward early-hours encounter between fans and drummer in the Best family’s garden.

Bestbeat has warmth and charm, but maybe needs an independent eye cast over it to help it reach its potential.

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