Monday, 29 September 2014

Birthmonth Day Twenty-Nine: Epstein (and Musical Monday #80)


What I had always always always dreamed of being was an actor.  When people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d tell them whatever I happened to want to be at the time, but add that The ‘Dream Job’ would be an actor.  By ‘dream job’ I meant ‘not practical’.  But one day, the day I finally got sick of people deriding The Intention to be a veterinary nurse, I decided that dreams could come true and I really would be an actor.  But in the end, much like people were able to dissuade me from the veterinary nurse thing with their lack of support, the same happened with acting.  Surely if I was really meant to be an actor, then I would always get the leads when I auditioned for crappy school plays, and for people who didn’t know me personally, and I would have got straight As in The Drama Exams.  But that wasn’t happening.  What was happening is as I neared the time when I had to choose The University to go to and this shit was getting real, I was increasingly aware of how much I didn’t enjoy about acting and how terrifying auditions were and The Limitations in performance and how the one thing I really loved about acting all this time was… not the acting part.  Tune in tomorrow for the exciting conclusion.

So, as I said yesterday The Housemate and I wanted to see a few things at the theatre this year and couldn’t afford it all, so we decided on one vote each.  The Housemate voted for Jeeves & Wooster, while I had already cast my vote for the one theatre show I would go to this year.

And that show was:

Epstein – The Man Who Made The Beatles (written by Andrew Sherlock/Leicester Square Theatre/16th August 2014)

Why did I want to see this show considering it obviously wouldn’t be my kind of thing?  Well…

When I started The University I managed to almost immediately offend one of The New Flatmates (The Alias) by suggesting that the dragon on the Welsh flag was rather camp.  Then again, she later wounded me by suggesting that Betrayed from The Producers was boring, so we’re kinda even.  Anyway, I apologised and set about becoming her friend by watching her favourite TV shows with her, which included a Welsh language programme about hockey
in which I just made up what was going on since I couldn’t understand any of it, and The Bill.

I loved The Bill for a little while.  A very little while.  Until I realised that it was a soap.  Sure the characters were all police officers, but otherwise, it was just a dumb soap.  Characters left and new characters joined with frightening rapidity, every episode ended with a cliffhanger so you were forced to tune in again, and everyone had some stupid unbelievable plot going on.  In fact everyone was so busy either sleeping with or killing each other, or both, that they never seemed to actually solve any cases.

The only character I really really liked was DI Manson. 
Partly this was because he joined shortly after I started watching it, so in a way he felt like he was mine, someone as new to all this as me and who didn’t have any previous episodes that I didn’t know about.  Also he was a good police officer, which call me crazy is what I look for in a cop show.  Sure he was incredibly grumpy, obsessed with statistics rather than people and played a power game where he ruthlessly targeted those he didn’t like.  But I could see there were deeper levels to him than that and I was intrigued to learn more.  And because I was new to the show, I didn’t have allegiances with the characters he was trying to usurp.  If he wanted them out, then so did I.  Screw ’em!

There was a scene very early on where some youth wouldn’t give information and Manson threw him around a bit to get it from him… which was totally out of character.  That one early scene felt like they hadn’t worked out what to do with this character yet.  Afterwards and in everything else, he was a totally straight cop.  Even when undermining others, he was honest about it.  He was never underhand.  He obeyed the law, he had high standards, he expected everyone to adhere or get out.  He might be cold to some, and motivated by power, but he was still a force for good and I love a force for good.

But by the Easter of The First Year at uni I was sick of The Bill.  By this point every single character in the show had committed some kind of crime, some of them to ludicrously psychotic levels.  The only person I was watching it for was The Beacon Of Grumpy Goodness, DI Manson.  And it being a soap, there were a million characters, and he wasn’t even in it every episode.  And then something I had seen coming for a while and that had horrified me began to have even heavier hints dropped and I used it as an escape boat.  Manson was interested in the one character in the show I absolutely hated.  A smug undercover journalist I just wanted to punch in the face, and he liked her and they were obviously going to have an affair and I just could not bear The Favourite Character to have his plots entangled with The Least Favourite Character.  If I was only watching it for him and I wasn’t going to enjoy his story any more, what was the point.

So I cut the cord and stopped watching the show.  For several years.

And I know this is crazy, but I missed Manson.  Every now and then I’d catch sight of the show just to check he was still there.  And of course The Alias kept me up to date with the continuing ludicrous plots for a while.

And then The Bill got a makeover.  They decided to stop making it a soap and make it a proper drama.  And with all the advertising everywhere I couldn’t miss it, so I decided to give it a go again.  And it was awesome.  It was such a good show now and Manson was one of only four characters still in it from the days when I used to watch and he was still brilliant.  Less cold, more lonely, less grumpy, more sulky, not power-mad but genuinely caring, they were the layers I had seen from the start, and I still loved him.

And then The Bill got cancelled because ITV and its audience suck.

And I missed Manson again.

Andrew Lancel, the actor who played DI Manson, went on to be in Coronation Street, which I didn’t watch because I don’t like soaps.  And he did Epstein in Liverpool and it got rave reviews.  And then the show came to London and I figured that since he was somewhere accessible now, I was going to have to go see it.  I knew he wouldn’t be anything like Manson, but he looks enough like him and frankly I needed a fix.  I have spent several months at work staring helplessly at a young man who looks like a twenty-years-younger Manson and it was driving me to distraction. 
I needed the real thing to get me past this pointless infatuation.

So we went to see Epstein (I figured what with The Housemate being a massive Beatles fan, he’d get something out of it).

But it is serious drama and I’m just not a serious drama kinda person.  I just find the whole concept of theatre to be… kind of silly. 
Maybe it’s because my own love of acting grew out of playing games, so I can never get past the idea that the people on the stage are behaving like children.  Maybe it’s just because I like funny things.  The silliness of live performance works for some shows, it worked for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, it worked for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it worked for The Producers, it worked for The 39 Steps and it worked for Jeeves and Wooster, but it works against drama.

So, Epstein was fine.  It was possibly even good, I’m just not the right person to judge.  It certainly wasn’t pretentious like Brief Encounter or obvious and boring like Bent.  So that’s pretty good.

It’s a two-man show.  ‘This Boy’ is a journalist trying to interview the real Brian Epstein, rather than the one everyone knows about who discovered The Beatles.  There was a lot of use of multimedia that didn’t actually seem to add anything.  And I could have done without the direct-to-audience narration at start and end.
Although this may have been because This Boy pointed directly at me during it and scared the hell out of me.
And a few moments in the first act such as the fight seemed put in just to make it more exciting rather than because they naturally needed to happen from the flow of the narrative. 
Guess where Brian ended up when he was on the floor.  Well, his face anyway.
  The one square foot of the stage that I couldn’t see.  AAAAAARRRGGGHHHH.

But I liked Andrew Lancel.  He was definitely good, and the bits where Brian flashbacked to his youth were really compelling.  In fact, I wish there had been more.  The only problem I ever had with him was the word ‘scallywag’ which I’m sorry, just cannot be taken seriously as something you would shout at someone you think might attack you. 
But This Boy did not convince me so easily.  I never really got his character at all.  He presents himself under false pretences to Brian twice and I don’t know why.  He keeps going on about wanting to know the ‘real’ story and getting incredibly sulky and stroppy when he isn’t getting it yet just as easily slips into distracted adulation of the Beatles, to an extent where I had no idea what it was he wanted and began to wonder if he was the one with the unstable personality, not Brian.  And at the start when Brian asks This Boy to read something he has written and This Boy launches into a very lengthy monologue of seeing The Beatles live, he completely failed to keep my concentration. 
So anyway, I wanted to see the show and I did, so I got what I wanted.  It certainly wasn’t a bad show, so that’s good.  And it has broken The Infatuation with that young man at work, who now I see doesn’t look so much like Manson after all, so that’s very good.

Oh yeah, also Musical Monday

Betrayed from The Producers

She was wrong, it’s freaking awesome.

What shows have you gone to see just because of the actor in it?


  1. You know I liked This Boy more than you - I thought he did the monologue quite well - but I agree about his wobbly motivations. Is he wearing some kind of helmet in that drawing that I am mysteriously not in? (Hint: I WAS SAT NEXT TO YOU, YOU JERK!)

    I'm glad I watched The Bill when it was a proper drama. I used to watch it as a kid, but I've no idea what I got out of it. Fortunately, this was pre its histrionic soap meltdown, of which I never saw a second.

    1. I draw his head too thick, and was too lazy to edit it. The point is that he pointed at ME, no one else, and that was scary. I don't want to be singled out of an audience.

      Example of insane soap-plot that was in The Bill in 2004 when I stopped watching it: A police officer was sleeping with his mum, who had given him up for adoption when she was young due to being raped. Only then it turned out that actually he was not her son, but the brother of this adopted man who he resented so wanted to have revenge on the biological mother. Meanwhile another character accused Smithy of raping her while they were both drunk but eventually dropped the charges, so the psycho officer took the opportunity to rape her so that no one would believe her for crying rape again so soon. Apparently he later became a sniper serial killer, was caught by that undercover journalist I didn't like, but Sun Hill got blown up at that moment so he left her to burn to death. He then murdered the woman he had raped, who died in Smithy's arms, admitting she loved him, but the psycho guy then told everyone she had loved HIM, and when he was finally caught as the sniper he killed himself. All totally believable plots.


I look forward to your enthusiastic and loving comment.