Preview: The Man Who Made The Beatles

A revamped theatre and a new play honours Brian Epstein, manager of The Beatles. Andy Murray talks to the major players

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You’re unlikely to have missed the fact that this is the 50th anniversary year of a certain band of Liverpool moptops. Strangely, though, amidst all the hoopla one man who’s been relatively overlooked is manager Brian Epstein. Yet the world might never even have heard of The Beatles if Epstein, the young manager of a Liverpool music store, hadn’t used his lunch break one fateful day in the early sixties to pop over to the nearby Cavern Club to see for himself these four lads that he kept hearing about. The rest, as they say, is history.

Quite apart from being the man who brought The Beatles to the world and whose tragically early death in 1967 from an accidental overdose surely hastened their disintegration, Epstein’s life is fascinating in its own right, as is made clear in a new multimedia play Brian Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, which has its world premiere in Liverpool this month.

Jen Heyes, one of the show’s creators reiterates Epstein’s significance to the band’s legacy. “Brian’s short life was crammed with success and controversy. He was an intelligent man whose presence, taste, vision and passion left a lifelong impact on the world.”

Born in Liverpool in 1934 of Jewish descent, the cool, modern, urbane and gay Epstein spent his early adult life working for the family business NEMS (North End Music Stores), before being drafted into the Royal Army Service Corps, then moving to London to join RADA and live a more openly gay life.

He returned to Liverpool to manage the new NEMS city centre music store, making it one of the biggest in the north, before that historic lunchtime visit. His death at the age of 32 occurred only a couple of months before homosexuality was legalised.

“He was a shrewd and visionary character, but quite private, partly, no doubt, because of his sexuality, and content to stay in the background of this incredible phenomenon,” observes Heyes.

“Don’t forget that he was having to make it up as he went along, so what he achieved was especially remarkable. He definitely wasn’t a tortured soul who took his own life.”

“His life even before he met The Beatles is worthy of a play in itself,” believes Andrew Lancel, the former Coronation Street star who plays Epstein.

Funnily enough, it’s a part he has been asked to play twice before. “Based on a passing resemblance,” he laughs. “But this is a play I was very honoured to be asked to be a part of.

“I’m a Beatles fan and I live in Liverpool. The heartbeat of Liverpool is The Beatles so it’s a daunting but hugely exciting challenge to be playing Brian, let alone at the theatre named after him.

“It’s sometimes forgotten just how charming and funny he was. The fame of The Beatles was incomprehensible, but he wouldn’t have sought fame for himself.”

That’s one of the reasons why, during the play’s two-year gestation period, it changed from being a one-man show to a two-hander multimedia play. Manchester Metropolitan University-trained newcomer Will Finlason takes on the role of This Boy, a fictional second character representing, Heyes explains, “the boisterous soul of sixties Liverpool with far too much energy and talent and far too much to say for himself. Will plays and sings but this isn’t a musical, let alone a jukebox musical.

“We’ve worked on this for a long time to make sure we had the right approach and sense of integrity. We wanted to tell the truth. That’s why people like the Liverpool Echo have opened their archive for us.”

“This is the first play I’ve accepted in 10 years which says a lot,” Lancel remarks.

“It’s a powerful and moving piece but also an entertaining insight into one of our own and what makes him tick.”

Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, 15 Nov-1 Dec, Epstein Theatre (formerly The Neptune), Liverpool

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