Drinking an Epstein real ale in the Epstein Theatre waiting for curtain up on Epstein, the show, about Epstein, the Beatles manager, there was a sense the pudding might have been somewhat over-egged.
Arguably the production the new venue had been waiting for – although it’s had a steady run of events on since its reopening in May, admittedly, MADEUP can’t have been the only ones not to have a real excuse to pay a proper visit – there has been a lot of hype. And as much as Liverpool loves a Beatles story, sometimes these things can be cloying, insular nonsense.
Fortunately, the team behind Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles seemed fully aware of the potential pitfalls. It is a show with style and substance, and with an electrifying performance from its star. With a lead kitted out in Gieves and Hawkes and with the stage set out as a sexy, minimalist 60s pad, the production looked like a classy affair from the off.
Not aiming to be a biography, it was instead an attempt to delve into what made the man whom, it appeared, lived vicariously through The Beatles. A short and sweet two hander, it took place through one night at his flat, with young aspiring writer, a character who would only introduce himself as “that boy, This Boy”, demanding to hear the story of the real Epstein. Initially looking for a conquest, then suspicious of his motives, Epstein eventually warmed to the boy and began to talk.
Andrew Lancel as Epstein was simply mesmerising. Not only was the resemblance remarkable, but away from the arguable panto of soap, he showed himself capable of delivering a quite thrillingly nuanced study of a troubled character barely in control; portraying Epstein as a man who has built up a cool, collected worldly façade, surrounded by all the trappings of success, yet so haunted by demons he can drastically and unselfconsiously break down on a turn.
Newcomer Will Finlason as This Boy proved himself as the discovery producers Jen Hayes and Bill Elms had presented him to be; confident holding together the narrative and a talented singer to boot. He was somewhat disadvantaged by being landed with swathes of clunky exposition that tended to interfere with the natural flow of the piece (“what, like when The Beatles were on the front cover of MerseyBeat magazine on October 23, 1962?” type dialogue) and just about got away with the amount of Fab Four song titles shoehorned into his lines without things becoming cheesy.
In fact, the mysterious This Boy was such an intriguing device, the audience could have been left wondering if he was indeed a figment of Epstein’s imagination in the lonely, drink and drug addled haze of his final days, adding further poignancy to Lancel’s tragic figure.
Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles has already been enthralling audiences who still can’t get enough of the phenomenon 50 years on. And rightly so – it is a class act; uncynical, passionate, real theatre.
The show runs until December 1 – for more information, visit www.epsteintheplay.com.