ANDREW SHERLOCK’S take on Beatles manager Brian Epstein sets out to be something a bit different. We are told this in a poetic prologue and repeatedly by This Boy, a young Liverpool lad looking for the true story behind the public face, who dismisses Epstein’s grandiose auto-biographical statements during their encounter.
Yet, what we end up with is exactly the tale This Boy was determined to avoid – a painting by numbers version of Epstein’s life and, at least in the second act, the history of The Beatles told through Epstein’s eyes, with episode related after episode like a child’s “what I did on my holidays” school essay.
Sherlock’s play is strong on research, packed almost relentlessly with the sort of titbits of information a music anorak could eat out on for a month, but it lacks the flights of fancy needed to fill in the blanks between the man we’ve all heard of and the one that, in this version at least, begs young men to come back to his swanky apartment to stem the loneliness.
It’s not all bad. The premise is intriguing – a one night encounter between Epstein and a Beatles fan who was too young to be at the heart of Merseybeat and feels by accident of birth he has missed the biggest thing to happen in his city.
It’s a shame though that This Boy makes it clear at the outset that he is not interested in “anything funny” because the duo’s dynamic would have been enlivened by a bit of light sexual tension.
There’s a deliciously creepy moment when Epstein encourages the younger man to dress up in a Beatles suit and another where he insists they act out a page of Chekhov, but the overall encounter isn’t as uncomfortable as it could be.
Newcomer Will Finlason plays This Boy with just a touch of naivety and all the enthusiasm of a fan, while Coronation Street’s Andrew Lancel’s performance is the best thing about the production. He plays Epstein as a pill-popping man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, tension obvious in his limbs and facial muscles, ready to spring into a fight at the slightest provocation.
While the play may interest those who know little about Epstein, it could go much further in exploring the motives of such a pivotal figure in musical history and his struggles to be accepted as a gay, Jewish man at a time of intolerance.