Francine Wolfisz speaks to Andrew Lancel, who is reprising his role in a play about Brian Epstein, legendary Beatles manager
If there was to be an official “year of Brian Epstein”, 2014 would probably be a good one to choose, muses actor Andrew Lancel.
This year, the legendary Beatles manager would have celebrated his 80th birthday. Last month, he was inducted into The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame and honoured with a commemorative blue plaque, while a graphic novel about his life was recently published and a film is in the works.
Interest in Epstein has never been stronger, so perhaps there has never been a better time to open a West End play about the Jewish music mogul.
Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, written by Andrew Sherlock and directed by Jen Heyes, received widespread critical acclaim when it opened in Liverpool in 2012.
It now starts a six-week run next Wednesday at Leicester Square Theatre – and Lancel tells me he feels “proud” to be reprising the title role.
The well-known face from Coronation Street, The Bill and Cardiac Arrest confesses to being a Beatles fan himself and describes his latest stage turn as “a fascinating journey”.
“Epstein played a huge part in making the Beatles. His managerial genius matched their musical genius. Would they have been discovered without him? Probably, but the way it happened, the timing of it, was a powder keg waiting to go off. He saw something in them that no-one else had seen and he put his money where his mouth was.
“As far as I’m concerned, the world changed when John met Paul, but it changed again when Brian saw the Beatles. What he achieved with those guys in such a short space of time is inconceivable.”
Starring alongside Will Finlason as This Boy, a fictional character, the two-hander imagines the final drug-fuelled days of Epstein and looks back at his meteoric rise from music store owner to managing the world’s biggest pop group.
The 43-year-old actor, who lives between London and Liverpool with his wife Louise and their son Isaac, tells me he has learnt much about Epstein, who he described as “the ultimate outsider”.
“He was middle class and from a suburban, Jewish family, but during his younger years he was expelled, arrested and thrown out the army – this was a guy who was searching for himself.
There was also much animosity towards him, not just because of his sexuality, but because of his race. But I think all of that enhanced his chutzpah. It was something that was a part of him and he was a huge success because of it.”
I ask how Epstein would have fared alongside the likes of Simon Cowell in today’s entertainment industry and Lancel is convinced he would have thrived, given his strong business instincts.
“This was a time when there were no mobile phones, no Twitter, no internet – everything was done by a combination of telephones and bravado,” he explains. “The Beatles did world tours before anyone else did them – even Elvis never did a world tour.
“They were also the first to enter into any merchandising. These were all Epstein’s ideas, his shaping. The music belonged to the Beatles, always, but this guy was really pulling the strings in many other ways. He really had his finger on the pulse.
“If he had been around today, Brian would have embraced whatever had been current, including The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Anything to enhance his stable and the boys, he would have been all for it.”
Tragically, after witnessing the incredible rise of the Beatles, Epstein died in 1967 from an accidental overdose, aged just 32. “Everything changed when Brian died,” concedes Lancel.
“Lennon said his death was the beginning of the end for the group, while Paul described him as the ‘Fifth Beatle’.
“People often debate that title, but I think it’s right we leave it to the Beatles to decide that. If Paul said Brian was the Fifth Beatle, that’s good enough for me. That’s how close Epstein was to them – and that’s how much they loved him.”
- Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles runs at Leicester Square Theatre from Wednesday, 30 July to 6 September.
- Details: www.leicestersquaretheatre.com or 08448 733433.