Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, Leicester Square Theatre, review: 'A nuanced portrait'

Intriguing and informative despite some dud and clumsy passages

It sounds a potentially grisly and exploitative scenario for a two-hander about the Beatle's enigmatic manager.

We're in 1967 and Brian Epstein has brought back an apparent rent-boy to his London house (“Belgravia has its advantages”). The boy, symbolically enough, has no name: he's This Boy, That Boy, or Real Nowhere Man, except that he hails very emphatically from Liverpool and, with his cuteness and charm, can't help but remind Brian, of, well, you know... 

Soon he's dressing up the youth in clothes that have been actually worn by “the boys”, his hands fetishistically flitting round their contours. Did I mention that this long night's journey into day happens about 48 hours before Epstein died from an accidental overdose – the Beatles returning post-haste from Wales where they had been with their alternative mentor, the Maharishi?

And yet, this piece – written by Andrew Sherlock and directed by Jen Heyes – is surprisingly good: continually intriguing, informative and, though it has some dud and clumsy passages, offering quite a nuanced portrait of the failed RADA actor who returned to work in the Liverpool family store and then had one of the must lucrative epiphanies in the history of mankind when he laid eyes on four music-making scruffs in the Cavern. 

The youth dragged back to Belgravia turns out to be an aspiring music journalist, very intelligently played with a troubled charm and concern by Will Finlason. He quite rightly feels that Epstein's autobiography, A Cellar Full of Noise (John Lennon famously said that it should have called A Cellar Full of Boys) is evasive and he has waylaid him in this rather deceitful manner with the notion of being midwife to a fuller truth. 

The idea that gradually develops here is that, in some respects, this pair are kindred spirits.  It haunts the boy that he was born too late to have seen the Beatles in their and his native city.  And now the group are holed up making studio records. It haunts Brian that, no longer as necessary to them now that they will never tour again, that he may be losing his centrality to his creations.  S

So the would be-journo is on not just a fact-finding but a kind of spiritual quest into Epstein's pained nostalgia. The tricky concurrence of being both Jewish and gay in that period is robustly broached (Epstein's predicament reminded me, with variations, of Posner's great line in The History Boys: “I'm a Jew.  I'm small. I'm homosexual.  And I live in Sheffield.  I'm fucked”). Plus, Epstein seems to have had some temperamental leanings towards masochism as we see here when he thinks the youth has stolen a watch and, in the resulting scuffle, begs to beaten up.

Andrew Lancel plays him arrestingly, but the pompous assumed-gent manner he adopts is not like the Epstein we can see on footage who was private school-poshed and who, rather endearingly to my mind, always looks slightly ineffectual as though he would be hard put to draw up a squash ladder let alone multi-million dollar deal.  But Lancel is much more persuasive in showing how a great manager may be successful through an acute susceptility to vicarious emotion.

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