Two nights before Brian Epstein dies from an overdose, a rent boy rocks up at his immaculate London flat. The boy isn’t named – he calls himself This Boy or That Boy, a Nowhere Man – because this isn’t about him. It’s about the enigmatic Mr Epstein, the man who managed The Beatles. On this night in 1967, This Boy tries to unpick the real Epstein.
So what’s he like? Mawkish, dapper, preening, camp. He was bullied at school and in the army – “I’ve been dealing with bullies my whole life” – and you can see why. He’s vain and vulnerable; he wanted to be an actor. Now he has everything he needs, except love – and “all you need is love”.
At 32, Epstein is unhappy and unhealthy. He drinks a lot, takes drugs and refers to The Beatles as his “boys”. He is intolerably lonely, too. While he was looking after John, Paul, George and Ringo, who was looking after Brian?
Epstein imparts little kindnesses to This Boy. He gives him George Harrison’s guitar. He dresses the Boy in The Beatles’ suits and boots, and begs to hear him sing – “I make stars. If I put my mind to it, I could make you a star.” But could he? The brandy-soaked Epstein of 1967 is smaller than the one who signed the group in 1962 and conquered the US two years later.
Now and then, Epstein’s misery slides into farce. In one splendidly toe-curling scene, he accuses the boy of stealing his lighter, initiating homoerotic fisticuffs in which he tries to get spanked by his reluctant new acquaintance, bleating meekly: “I can be a very, very naughty boy.”
And there’s a hint that the great pop visionary made some ropey deals, costing his “boys” a lot of money. Was Epstein, indeed, a bit fluky? Playwright Andrew Sherlock is here to praise Epstein, not to bury him. And This Boy’s conclusion – that Epstein was “a mess and a genius” – is, surely, shared by Sherlock.
Andrew Lancel’s Epstein is touching, prissy and immensely camp. Will Finlason makes an eager, slightly saccharine young foil as This Boy. It’s not a startling piece of drama, but it is nuanced and interesting. And Epstein is revealed to a point.