Theatre review: Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles at the Leicester Square Theatre
At the very start of Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, we are told this is not just another jukebox musical that sees “a lot of Beatles songs chewed up and spat out” to the audience’s delight.
A thinly-veiled jibe at the Let It Be musical happening down the road, this sets the tone for what is an understated, cultured and moving examination of a man who spread love to the world but found little himself.
There are many rumours but few facts about Brian Epstein, who famously discovered, moulded and managed the Beatles until his sad, early death in 1967 at the age of just 32. Most notably, he was gay at a time when it was still illegal and Jewish at a time when Jews were still openly discriminated against: two facts which are shown to cause him considerable anguish over the course of Andrew Sherlock’s script.
Directed by Jen Heyes, Epstein plays out as a two hander between the manager (Andrew Lancel) and a bright young Merseybeat lad (Will Finlason) he brings back to his bright, minimalist London flat initially in the hope of sexual comfort. When the reluctant latter – impressively played by versatile newcomer Finlason – reveals himself to be a “wannabe journalist”, the relationship quickly becomes turbulent, but eventually the details of Epstein’s troubled past are revealed through poetic, lyrical monologues.
Lancel – known to many as The Bill’s DI Neil Manson and Coronation Street’s Frank Foster – is a spitting image of Epstein and has clearly taken great care to perfect his tone and mannerisms. Most laudable however is the way he captures the well-spoken Liverpudlian’s fragility while still emanating a stubbornly-preserved sense of grandeur.
Realistically, this isn’t a Beatles play: the music is scarce and the band themselves never make an appearance. Neither do we really find out anything new about Epstein’s past, but rather the pain and power he is shown to take from being an outsider lends a raw, human element to a figure who for many is an inspiration. At times it feels like Sherlock could have dug deeper into the back story, but nonetheless Epstein is a spirited, heartfelt realisation of a modern tragic hero.
Rating: Four stars out of five
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Until September 6.