We see little enough of her during the evening as she sits on stage, but not in the action, belting out the appropriate Lennon/McCartney songs to mark the developing action. It's only during the curtain calls that the audience gets a good look at this large, gawky girl wearing gold-framed spectacles, but when they do they show their appreciation in a way reminiscent of a Liverpool football crowd when Kevin Keegan scores the winning goal.
The author, Willy Russell, is the latest in the line of good English provincial dramatists who write the commonplaces of everyday living into universal themes, and he does it well, with humour and some skill. The Beatles were always there to be written about and while they existed they were written about - constantly. Willy Russell's achievement is to put them in context, to see them as a part of other people's lives and to make dramatic sense of their odd rise to fame...
The four young actors who impersonate the Beatles do it with some skill. Of course, make-up helps, but the attack and insight is to be admired, especially from Bernard Hill who plays John Lennon, and Anthony Sher who plays Ringo and cleverly suggests the growing sophistication and deadpan humour of the most down-to-earth member of the troupe.
In the Joan Littlewood manner there are many amusing cameo performances, notably from Linda Beckett as a Liverpool kid, Nick Stringer as Klein and Robin Hooper, who has the tricky role of the Virgin Epstein and all but brings it off. Ah me, it makes you feel quite old watching all these young 'uns acting their heads off - but the odd thing is I want to go and see "John, Paul, George, Ringo... And Bert" again. I wonder why?... Perhaps it was just because I enjoyed it.
'DAILY EXPRESS' - August 16, 1974 (Review by Herbert Kretzmer)
The story of the Beatles, from instant myth in the wasteland of the '60's to instant nostalgia in the vulgar glitter of the '70's, is the source and substance of the West End's newest and most original musical play.
The show, originally presented in Liverpool, is an abrasive and audacious musical that not only traces the rise and decline of the famous quartet, but also manages to comment constantly on the changing England in which they lived.
Steeped in the pop culture and jargon of the past dozen years, Willy Russell's play is candid about the four young heroes themselves.
It depicts without sham, for example, the mounting dislike and eventual feud between the irascible, aggressive Lennon and the quick, compromising Paul McCartney.
It shows the Beatles in their scruffy, foul-mouth pre-glory days, when they openly showed their contempt for the crowd, traces their odyssey to Germany where Hitler himself stamps their passports and rages at them : "You vill play until your fingers bleed! " "Pretty far-out," murmurs the mystical George Harrison, combing his hair forward like the Fuehrer's and thus launching the Beatles' mop-top coiffure.
And so on to Brian Epstein, movingly impersonated by Robin Hooper, who cleaned them up, put them into pretty clothes, but still treated them like men.
The play, accompanied by some quite stupendous singing of the Beatles' catalogue by Barbara Dickson at the piano, is not concerned with mere showbiz, biography, but on a deeper level with what it actually felt like to be trapped inside a legend that grew monstrous with time.
This is a brilliant and exciting play and admiration for the four young unknown actors (Bernard Hill, Trevor Eve, Phillip Joseph and Anthony Sher) who play the Beatles is boundless.
Drugs, flower power, the Maharishi, Yoko... all history now, but cleverly wrapped up in a show that remembers when the gravy train stopped at Liverpool, before the music got lost.
'NEW MUSICAL EXPRESS' - 1974 (Review by Tony Tyler)
...The best single performance in the show comes from Barbara Dickson. She plays piano and sings the songs... she sings like a nightingale and her timing, cueing and renditions of the appropriate Beatles tunes are impeccable and done with the maximum effect. She received the greatest applause at the end. Rightfully so.
'THE SUNDAY TIMES' - 1974 (Review by Derek Jewell)
Pete Best, the drummer whom John, Paul and George rejected in favour of Ringo just before the Beatles broke through in 1962-63, sits dejectedly after being told by Brian Epstein he is sacked. In the background a girl singer, Barbara Dickson, crisply points up the words of "With a Little Help From My Friends."
The complement of mood and music is perfect, ironic, unsentimentally accurate. Or again, John Lennon, having refused to be drawn into the showbiz type of going to "meet, saviour-like, a group of cripples, is finally persuaded to do so by Epstein. Otherwise the Press might crucify him with bad publicity. As he goes, "Help! " is sung.
John Paul George Ringo... and Bert, the adventurous biographical play about the Beatles at Liverpool's Everyman Theatre, bursts with incisive moments like these. It is a fine piece of work. The author, Willy Russell, has produced, firstly, a reasonably fair and balanced story. It is certainly true to my own experience of the Beatles before they left Liverpool and in the first few years afterwards. There will be differing views about how the progressive splintering of the group is presented. Mr Russell seems more sympathetic to the Lennon-Ringo-George side than to Paul's, but he wings subtle darts at all the boys in turn without ever losing the audience's sympathy for them.
And can Mr. Russell write dialogue! The play crackles with the outrageous, bawdy humour which is a Liverpudlian's birthright, and the action throughout is finely integrated with the Lennon-McCartney and Harrison songs (around 16 of them) and with the back-projected silides.
To have produced four players looking and talking so like the Beatles from the theatre's regular company is a considerable achievement. Bernard Hill (John) is outstanding, but then he has the best lines; Trevor Eve (Paul), Phillip Joseph (George) and Antony Sher (Ringo) match him. There isn't, indeed, a weak link - from the very funny narration of George Costigan to the coolly consistent singing of Barbara Dickson, a neat ploy to avoid having four actors attempting to perform Beatles hits.
I almost forgot - the actors are at the door (I mean outside, in the rain) singing Beatles' hits like buskers as you arrive; yet another coup for the director, Alan Dossor, whose comprehensive production ends with the great idea of the Beatles posed against the blown-up "Sergeant Pepper " album sleeve. A delightful, entertaining evening that deserves a London production.
JOHN PAUL GEORGE RINGO... & BERT (1974/1975)
'PUNCH' - August 28, 1974
(Review by Barry Took)
The real Beatles story is a Grand Guignol affair and the glimpses we have of it in 'John, Paul, George, Ringo... And Bert' are spine-chilling enough. Nothing notable is left out, although it seems to me that a few wives are dropped en route and the boys' disastrous film career is only hinted at, but as Vic Oliver used to say - "What was left was very good..."
The production is clearly influenced by Joan Littlewood - which is not a bad thing, and although the play is no 'Oh! What A Lovely War', it's good to see that perhaps Liverpool has something to learn from London after all.
The surprise of the evening is Barbara Dickson who plays the piano and sings, which is like saying that Gary Player is a golfer and that Germany have a football team. Miss Dickson sings in a voice of slate and marble, brass and fire.
It's the voice of the Liverpool Kop, it's a voice in love with what it sings, a voice made for singing.