If you’re not from Liverpool or a fan of the Fab Four, then the words “Epstein, who’s he then?” may cross your lips if someone invites you to the Leicester Square Theatre in the next few weeks. Fortunately, the play’s full title Epstein, The Man Who Made the Beatles will give you a clue as to the nature of the show.
This two hander is introduced by “This Boy” (Will Finlason), a character whose name we never learn, and who starts the show with a monologue to the audience explaining what it isn’t about. This isn’t some homage to The Beatles, nor is it a rehash of the various stories that everyone knows already. It is the story of the man, pardon the slip into tabloid journalism, behind the headlines.
The action takes place in the Belgravia flat of Brian Epstein (Andrew Lancel) who has been on a sharking expedition and brought home a young lad “This Boy” for? Well, it turns out they have very different ideas of how the evening is going to end. Brian is obviously in full seduction mode but why is “This Boy” there?
As they talk, we get to know more about both characters. “This Boy” deliberately set out to meet and get to know Brian, and learn about him. Not the Beatles, just him. He is, in reality, a wannabe writer, and to prove it he describes a visit to the historic Cavern Club in Liverpool in 1961 that he has imagined. The writing at this point is amazing and when combined with superlative acting and the excellent use of an on-stage projection, totally mesmerising.
Brian however, is an enigma in so many ways. At times, smooth as silk – he lends an absolutely delighted “Boy” a set of clothes originally worn by one of the Beatles – but then he turns, as he thinks the “Boy” has stolen from him, and becomes violently submissive expecting to be robbed and beaten by his young companion. He makes it very difficult for anybody to really know what to make of him, but we get some real idea of who he is as Brian does his own monologue, telling his story from childhood through to the day he realised just what the Beatles were going to become. This is a really touching scene as we are reminded that growing up the eldest son in a middle class, Jewish family in the 1940s and 50s was no picnic, particularly if you also happen to be homosexual.
Brian and “This Boy” continue the story, but the main problem is everything for Brian goes back to The Beatles. Slowly however, “This Boy” gets more of his personal story out him. How he cried at various times as the Beatles career started to take off, his calls with the President of Capitol Records and the sacking of Pete Best – something the good folks of Liverpool had trouble forgiving. All in All, Brian is a very troubled man. He drinks too much, takes drugs and picks up some very rough trade in his pursuit of the life he feels he should live. And yet, there is something more to him. In an emotionally charged scene “This Boy” confronts Brian with everything that people say about him behind his back. None of it is good and at times it’s amazingly vicious. Brian accepts it all, as if this is the proof of what he believes about himself.
The show ends with a final monologue. “This Boy” explains what happens next and his feelings about the man he met for one night. The emotion was so high by this point that you could feel the entire audience truly hanging on to every word.
This really is a diamond of a show. Andrew and Will play their parts to perfection and play with our emotions, and for those old enough, memories of Brian Epstein, the man. They are obviously very at ease in each other’s company, and you can feel genuine affection between them as characters, and as actors. The timing of this play is perfect, with Brian finally being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year (26 years after the rest of The Beatles). As “This Boy” says in his opening monologue “If you can remember the 60s you weren’t there”, well, I’m too young to have been there when Brian Epstein was around but I will certainly remember him now.
Review by Terry Eastham
Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles by Andrew Sherlock
Leicester Square Theatre
Evenings: Monday to Saturday 7.30pm
Matinees: Thursday 3.00pm and Saturday 4.00pm
Running Time: 2 Hours
Booking to 6th September 2014.