From me to you, this show is a hit

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -


Le­ices­ter Square The­atre, Lon­don WC2

I’D LOVE to know what the sur­viv­ing Bea­tles make of An­drew Sher­lock’s play about their man­ager. Any im­pres­sion that may have formed of an op­por­tunist who made his mint by ex­ploit­ing the tal­ent of four naïve, work­ing-class boys from Liver­pool — five if count­ing Pete Best, who Brian Epstein sacked at the be­hest of John, Paul and Ge­orge in or­der to make room for Ringo — is me­thod­i­cally and mov­ingly dis­man­tled by this two-han­der.

The writ­ing is good. But the act­ing in Jen Heyes’s mod­est pro­duc­tion is ter­rific. Sher­lock sets his play in 1967, just be­fore Epstein’s death. The ac­tion takes place in the man­ager’s Bel­gravia pad, to which Epstein (An­drew Lan­cel) has in­vited a young man (Will Fin­la­son), whose James Dean looks Epstein can­not re­sist.

A ver­bal and phys­i­cal joust en­sues with each pro­tag­o­nist at­tempt­ing to get from the other some­thing they des­per­ately want. Epstein wants his guest’s com­pany and body. The young man — aka This Boy — re­veals him­self to be a bud­ding jour­nal­ist who des­per­ately wants Epstein’s story.

The play cap­tures the slightly sor­did soli­tude of a man with­out whom the Bea­tles may not have bro­ken the UK, let alone the US. At least that’s the case Sher­lock’s play pow­er­fully puts. But the main ob­jec­tive is to re­ha­bil­i­tate a ma­ligned rep­u­ta­tion. It’s a story fu­elled in the telling here by glasses of ex­pen­sive brandy and, in Epstein’s case, the pills con­tin­u­ally popped to bring him down from a high or raise him up from a low.

Facts and myths are spilled and, to some ex­tent, sep­a­rated. Jewish, gay and born into a wealthy Liver­pool fam­ily whose fur­ni­ture and elec­tri­cal busi­ness was never go­ing to suit their flam­boy­ant son, Epstein gave the Fab Four more than he re­ceived. At least in terms of money. He didn’t even sign his first con­tract with the group. He wanted them to be able to leave at any time.

“Per­haps it was not want­ing to be seen as a tight-fisted Jew. Maybe it was masochism,” he says. Lan­cel’s portrait, well sup­ported by Fin­la­son, sug­gests a brim­ful of con­tra­dic­tions — charisma clash­ing with the self-loathing of a man whose sex­u­al­ity had no public place in the oft-for­got­ten con­ser­vatism of the swing­ing six­ties. By the time Epstein died of an over­dose, his “boys”, as he liked to call them, were still only young, of course. But con­sid­er­ing that decades later Paul de­scribed Epstein as a fifth Bea­tle, the band’s treat­ment of their man­ager was of­ten un­fair.

Paul is de­picted as a cal­cu­lat­ing pres­ence of­ten ma­noeu­vring for power, John wasn’t averse to the oc­ca­sional an­ti­semitic jibe and Ge­orge, the most spir­i­tual of the group, was the one to give Epstein the most grief over money. Then there is the mu­sic and it’s here that Sher­lock’s writ­ing rises to the chal­lenge of de­scrib­ing what it was like in those early days to be in The Cav­ern watch­ing the birth of bril­liance. It wasn’t the mu­sic that hit you, re­mem­bers Epstein, it was the en­ergy.

The play’s a must for Bea­tle afi­ciona­dos. For ev­ery­one else, it’s a re­ward­ing, en­light­en­ing two hours.


Nicely couched: An­drew Lan­cel and Will Fin­la­son

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