Theater News Online
free issue
London Theatre Reviews
NY Theater Reviews
LTN Recommendations
NYTN Recommendations
Book Reviews
Movie Reviews
London Theatre Archives
NY Theater Archives
Latest New York News
Latest London News
NY News Archives
London News Archives
Peter Filichia's Monday Quiz
Dining and Travel
London Theatre Listings
NY Broadway Listings
Off-Broadway Listings
London Tickets
Advertise with us

Subscribe
Renew
Give a Gift


Logo

Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
EPSTEIN: THE MAN WHO MADE THE BEATLES
at Leicester Square Theatre

THE FIFTH BEATLE
By JOHN NATHAN

  Andrew Lancel and Will Finlason/ Ph: Bond Media

Despite the fact that Brian Epstein was once described by Paul McCartney as the fifth Beatle, the pop manager has been remembered unflatteringly. Whatever credit Epstein received for discovering and launching the greatest band that ever existed (in my humble opinion) has been sullied by the view that there have been less parasitic tape worms than this middle-class exploiter of working-class talent. 

Andrew Sherlock's play does much to debunk that reputation. It delivers a portrait of Epstein, superbly played here by Andrew Lancel with a mixture of fevered vulnerability and cool, tie-straightening charisma, as a lonely, gay man haunted by self-hatred and bitterness over how he was treated, often by people he was devoted to. The play is set in 1967, just before Epstein's death from an overdose. The other character in this two-hander is a fictional James Dean lookalike known only as This Boy (Will Finlason), who is the latest young man to be invited by Epstein back to his Belgravia flat in which all the action takes place. The guest turns out to be a budding journalist who wants to write Epstein's story.

It is a mannered set-up. How terribly convenient for a biographical play to have its own biographer on stage. But it is easy to forgive the artifice. Each wants something that the other doesn't want to give. Epstein wants rough sex while his guest wants the honest truth about his host's life. And Jen Heye's production keeps the resulting tension taut, with Boy encouraging intimacy while fending off his host's advances.

If there is any exploitation going on, it is not by Epstein. And that is broadly the message of the play. As the impresario spills his life story fuelled in the telling by drugs washed down by expensive brandy, a portrait emerges of someone who may have been motivated by lots of things, but not money. Gay, Jewish and born into a wealthy Liverpudlian family whose furniture business was never going to suit their flamboyant son, we hear that Epstein didn't even sign his first contract with the Fab Four. He wanted them to feel free to leave whenever they wanted. “Perhaps it was not wanting to be seen as a tightfisted Jew. Maybe it was masochism,” he says. 

Lancel's performance deserves more recognition than it will probably get in this low-key production, which has found a West End home in a basement venue best suited to stand-up.

But for anyone who considers themselves a Beatles fan (and if you aren't, what's wrong with you?) this is essential viewing. Three of them – John, Paul and George – were not quite the guileless, working class naifs often depicted in the early days. According to their manager – or Sherlock's version of him – Paul was often manipulative, John was not averse to directing the occasional anti-Semitic jibe at Epstein and George, always quick to declare his spiritual credentials, was just as fast to challenge Epstein about money, even though much of the band's expenses were met by Epstein himself.

Still, this is 1967, and the “boys,” as Epstein called them, were still very young. Crucially, something of the excitement and energy that The Beatles generated on stage is evoked with some unpretentious but lyrical writing on Sherlock's part. The play also captures the slightly sordid solitude of a man without whom the world would probably have been denied some of the greatest music ever made.

 


SUBSCRIBE TO New York Theater News
SUBSCRIBE TO London Theater News

SCHEDULE UPDATES -
Yes, Prime Minister contracts its run, while A Chorus Line expands its own.
POWERHOUSE OF THEATRE - After 11 years as the Almeida Theatre's artistic director, Michael Attenborough is stepping down to focus on directing. 

SONGS FROM THE HEART - Once the Tony-Award winning musical is set to hit London in January.


Wine, Fruit, and Gourmet Gift Baskets.
Privacy Notice   |   Front Page
Copyright © TheaterNewsOnline.com. All Rights Reserved.