Review: The Man Who Made The Beatles is an honest look at the life of a gay music icon
Nick Duffy reviews The Man Who Made The Beatles for PinkNews, a play about closeted Beatles manager Brian Epstein, on the 47th anniversary of his death.
Brian Epstein is a man who history often defines by someone else’s narrative – a bit part in the story of the Beatles.
Andrew Sherlock’s The Man Who Made The Beatles is a bold tribute to the closeted music producer – who died from an overdose aged just 32, at the height of the band’s success – and a valiant attempt to finally afford him his own story.
The stripped-down production, currently playing in Leicester Square Theatre, stars Andrew Lancel as Epstein one night before his death, and newcomer Will Finlason as a fictional Nowhere Boy (based on plenty of real ones) invited back to his flat. The Beatles – and indeed everyone else – are absent.
The play deals with Epstein’s life, from “rich fag jew” to musical icon, and seldom strays off course.
It is, to its credit, completely upfront about its direction, with an opening address to the audience dispelling any worries that it might succumb to Beatlemania. For anyone wanting a lighter, rose-tinted tribute, Let It Be is available just down the road.
It instead takes a painstaking look at Epstein’s life as a gay man surviving in the 60s faced with routine homophobia and anti-Semitism, his deteriorating relationship with the band, and his struggles with drugs and alcohol.
The show is heavy on talking and light on action, with absolutely no room to hide in the meticulous dissection of Epstein’s life story.
Andrew Lancel’s performance is truly impressive, taking on with eerie accuracy the physical appearance and mannerisms of the man himself – as the restrained use of video footage shows to great effect.
The minimalist 60s set also lends itself to authenticity, making use of the limited space, while costuming is well-attended – denim jackets, Beatle boots and all.
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Will Finlason’s character – a young Liverpudlian music journalist – acts as a great mirror for Lancel, on behalf of his critics, his fans and his lovers, and he definitely steps up to the table when faced with the more established actor.
Chemistry between the pair sizzles despite the age gap, and the younger actor manages to fill out a role that threatens at times to become just a sounding board for his more established counterpart.
The show ultimately shies away from delving too deeply into the actual circumstances surrounding Epstein’s demise, but attending a performance on the 47th anniversary of his death, it was never far from the surface.
Vitally, though, the show allows for a more honest telling of Epstein’s life. His flings with men are very much in the foreground, and his declining relationship with the band amid their rise to stardom is played out much more truthfully than previous attempts.
The show has its issues and its slower moments, but ultimately provides an excellent look into the life of a gay man who defined an industry.