Writer: Andrew Sherlock
Director: Jen Heyes
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
Known as the man who discovered, packaged, stylised, branded and sold The Beatles, Brian Epstein may indeed have “made” the group; that is made everything except their music. Andrew Sherlock’s play, first seen in Liverpool in 2012, attempts to uncover the private man behind the figure who, it could be argued, moulded the 1960s and influenced every generation that followed.
Epstein was a gay, Jewish Liverpudlian who, during a period in London trying unsuccessfully to become an actor, had been convicted on indecency charges. At first, he is seen here as a resilient outsider, commenting at one point that he can handle rejection because he has never known anything else. However, the desire to be on stage reveals a need for the limelight which his management rôle could never satisfy; he recalls with bitterness the occasion when Princess Margaret shook his hand while still looking at and talking to John Lennon.
The play takes place in 1967 in Epstein’s Belgravia flat. He brings home a young man, known only as “This Boy” (one of several references to Beatles lyrics that creep into Sherlock’s script), who turns out to be an aspiring journalist looking for a story. Sexual chemistry between the two is hinted at throughout, but this proves to be a red herring, as the play adopts the format of an interview. It is a format which sometimes creaks, leaving us wishing that more about Epstein could be revealed through the drama of the two characters’ interaction, rather than by straightforward questions and answers.
Where this production scores most is with two compelling performances. Andrew Lancel is outwardly stylish and arrogant as Epstein, but he is clearly a bruised and brittle man. He speaks in the affected manner that might be adopted to conceal an accent, he is capricious, quick tempered and addicted to pills and alcohol. Lancel shows us a man who has achieved success beyond imagination, but is disintegrating before our eyes.
Will Finlason deserves more to work on in playing the nameless young man who Sherlock leaves as something of an empty shell. This is one of the play’s weaknesses, but Finlason does a great job in building the character into a sexually ambiguous, cocky Scouser who is in awe of and genuinely concerned for the man that he sees as a genius.
Brian Epstein died from a drug overdose, aged 32, on 27 August 1967, exactly a month after the Act legalising homosexuality received Royal assent; the World was moving on rapidly and strains with The Beatles and other performers that he fostered had by then begun to show. Sherlock suggests that, at this point in his whirlwind of a life, Epstein was no longer equipped to cope with further change. As the play is dealing with the private life of a very private man, it can never offer more than interesting supposition, but, as such, it is often very convincing.
Runs until 6th September| Photo Rhian Askins