Review: Epstein The Man Who Made The Beatles, London Leicester Square Theatre, West End

Posted on 8 August 2014
By Angela Johnson
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‘Epstein – The Man Who Made The Beatles’ has begun its five week run in London’s West End at the cosy Leicester Square Theatre.

The Beatles’ story is one we’ve heard 1000 times, a story so remarkable we are happy to hear it again and again. What, then, is the story of the man who ‘made’ these four lads from Liverpool achieve success the like of which the world had never known?

Brian Epstein (correctly pronounced ‘stein’ to rhyme with sheen, not shine) is an enigmatic character in rock and roll history. On the surface he was a well-to-do ‘rich gay Jew’ as John Lennon once cheekily described him. A man whose life, and death, were shrouded in secrecy. A man who lived in the shadows, dutifully working on the success of ‘his boys’ until his tragic demise age 32 from an overdose of sleeping pills. Did he prefer being in the shadows, or was it the hand he was dealt and accepted?

In playwright Andrew Sherlock’s bold imagining Epstein’s story unfolds between just two players on stage for 90 minutes. The audience are greeted by ‘this boy or that boy’, played by Will Finlason. He explains his role as the ‘nowhere boy’, the everyman, who enters the lounge of Brian Epstein’s London home just 48 hours before Brian was found dead in August 1967.

Brian has invited the boy back with him, as he was known to do. We discover quickly that the boy is a fan but he’s insistent on discovering the truth about Brian, not The Beatles. This surprises and flatters Brian, whose voice and mannerisms are captured magnificently by Andrew Lancel.

The set up sounds a little contrived but, as the show unfolds, it’s clear that ‘this boy’ is the perfect device to explore Epstein. Sherlock uses the boy to question the Epstein who’d dreams of becoming an actor. Perhaps a man who’d all along yearned to be the star of the show?

At first Brian is reluctant to tell his story but this young scouser persuades him, after a passionate description of his frustration at having been too young to witness The Mersey Beat first hand. The sound flows through his heart and soul as sure as the sweat dripped from The Cavern Club walls, though. A particularly moving monologue delivered by Finlason captures the magic conjured up by The Beatles in that dank cellar. The intense yearning every Beatles fan has felt when wishing they could have tasted it first-hand, before the lads hit the big time after being plucked for stardom by Brian. A man with a remarkable vision.

Overall the play’s respectful in its look at Epstein’s character, showing off his gleeful ‘camp’ humour and lust for life, as well as the tormented soul who dealt with bullies throughout his life. His impeccable dress sense, indeed, his vision for dressing the Beatles is referenced in a touching scene where Brian attempts to dress up ‘this boy’ in one of the suits the boys wore at Shea Stadium. It’s refreshing to see a production that so heavily references The Beatles yet doesn’t hold the band as its main focus.

Both performances by Lancel and Finlason are excellent, although Finlason has less to get his teeth into with nervy ‘this boy’. Lancel steals the show as the darker, and more vulnerable, sides of Brian Epstein are laid bare.

Projected images and music effectively build mood as the play develops, reflecting Brian’s state of mind and mounting pressure as the boys’ career snowballed out of anyone’s imagination or control. So, it seems, did Brian’s personal battle with drink and drugs… although the precise events leading up to his death remain respectfully unexplored.

Whether you are a Beatles aficionado or would like to know more about a man whose vision changed the world for the better, “Epstein” is an excellent place to start.


Epstein – The Man Who Made The Beatles is running in London’s Leicester Square Theatre from 5 August 2014 to 6 September 2014.

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