thu 18/12/2014

Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, Epstein Theatre, Liverpool | Theatre reviews, news & interviews

Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, Epstein Theatre, Liverpool

New play about The Beatles' troubled Svengali opens the refurbished theatre that bears his name

Love Me Do? Andrew Lancel as Brian Epstein and Will Finlason as This Boy

Those of us growing up in the heady days of 1960s Liverpool knew that four local lads were taking the world by storm. Some really grown-up people might even have been to The Cavern and seen the phenomenon in their early days. And yet there was always an enigma in the background: the figure who made it happen but about whom we knew almost nothing.

Brian Epstein – pronounced Epsteen – seemed to have it all: wealth, good looks, ability, contacts. He was the gifted businessman who launched several epic popular music careers, not to mention a major music business in Liverpool which continued well after his death. And yet as this witty, well-paced new play by Andrew Sherlock dramatises in the refurbished theatre named after him, he was troubled, insecure, dependent on drink and drugs and perpetually harassed.

This Boy is a potential lover. He’s also the anti-Semitic homophobe

From the start, life was not likely to be easy. A Jew growing up at a time when anti-Semitism was often rife despite the horrors of the Holocaust, he went to school in Liverpool through the Second World War when the city was one of the most bombed and battered places in the world thanks to the docks and the links to America. He was also gay at a time when it was still illegal. There is a scene in which older boy taunts Epstein for being Jewish and a faggot. “There are no faggots in this school,” he says. “Oh, I think there are,” says Epstein and kisses the boy who makes no effort to escape.

Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles is at times comic, at times intensely moving. It features only two characters: Brian Epstein himself and This Boy (named after the early John Lennon song). While Epstein is the suave, unruffled impresario, This Boy assume a range of roles. He is the scally from Liverpool who is obsessed with Epstein, keeping all the cuttings from the Liverpool Echo and Merseybeat, the famed Liverpool music magazine which is sadly no longer. He’s a budding, talented writer, a not-half-bad singer, an agony uncle, a new-found friend of Epstein. And, although there are hints in what amounts to a staged all-night conversation between strangers that this new friendship may blossom into something more, we’re left unsure as to whether This Boy is a potential lover. He’s also the anti-Semitic homophobe.

Will Finlason slips between these multiple roles with confidence, changing out of his costume only once to slip into a Sixties zoot suit associated with The Beatles. Andrew Lancel in a Gieves and Hawkes suit, preening himself unsmilingly in the mirror, captures Epstein’s assurance, even arrogance, dissolving into sobs only when This Boy threatens to leave. Jen Heyes’s direction is simple but clever, while the set design consists of a sparsely furnished but tasteful 1960s bachelor pad plus back wall projections. Epstein is not merely an exercise in nostalgia 50 years on from the Beatles first hit. It also finds the real man lurking inside an enigma.

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