Interview: Former Corrie star Andrew Lancel
GT chatted to Andrew Lancel ahead of his performance as Brian Epstein in London’s West End
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Brian Epstein, discoverer of the Beatles, died in 1967, aged 32. This year would have been his 80th birthday, and there’s a flurry of commemoration happening, not least his induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. One of the tributes to Epstein is the West End transfer of two-man play Epstein: The Man Who Made The Beatles, which was first performed 18 months ago in Liverpool.
Andrew Lancel, an unashamed Beatles fan himself, is reprising his role as the Beatles’ manager when the show heads to London, and we caught up with him for a chat about the play ahead of its opening in August.
You’re a massive Beatles fan. How does it feel to be playing this role?
As a Beatles fan it was a massive buzz to be doing it in Liverpool as part of the fiftieth anniversary. And now a short time on, to be taking the play to London, as a Beatles fan, with all this Beatles celebration: 50th anniversary of them going to New York, Brian’s 80th, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and we’re unveiling a plaque for him in London on Sunday. It’s a real buzz, you know?
I’ve said before, Brian would have been worthy of a play even if he hadn’t discovered the Beatles: because of his life, his background, his religion, his upbringing, his sexuality, his ups and downs. And then he went off and fucking discovered the Beatles! So you know, we didn’t want to make it just an impersonation, we didn’t want it to be just a tribute to a tortured soul. We wanted to tell the story of a guy who changed the world. And I think, I think, we’ve done that.
So originally you did the play in Liverpool, which is the home of the Beatles. Do you think it will be as well received in London?
I think it will be. It’s a different place and a different audience, but obviously saying that a lot of the people who came to see it in Liverpool did come up from London. I think Brian’d be made up. I think he deserves a West End run and the theatre is just perfect. It feels really really right. There’s a vibe around it from the Beatles community; from the gay community. It’s really exciting and it gives us a huge boost.
Will it be at all different to play the role now as opposed to eighteen months ago? Have you changed things about it since then?
Oh of course. You do a run for six months and a piece will change naturally. You’re always rewriting. You’ll take pieces out and things will change, you know, it’s the essence, the heart, the beat of a piece. But there are things that are the same. Will Finlason. He’s back, and that was really important to me. The same guy, the same energy. We’ve got more video, interactive media. It’s very clever because we’ve recreated interviews and some people thought they were the original interviews.
At the end of this play people leave knowing Brian much more. You kind of fall in love with him a little bit. And he was a very important person, a very special person, for many different people. His genius as a manager was matched by the Beatles genius as musicians. And the dynamic was just right. Brian with his managerial success, for the short time he was with them before he died, is unbelievable. From The Cavern, from pubs, to conquer the world. There’s a line in the play where This Boy says 'He saw the future.' And I totally believe that.
I know you mentioned you met Brian Epstein’s family, but how else did you go about preparing to play the role?
Where do I start? You kind of have to immerse yourself. There’s a lot of pictures out there of Brian, in most of which he’s smiling. And you know, a lot of people think that because he died early he must have been depressed. And he was depressed, but he didn’t mean to die. You look at all the pictures on google and in most of them he’s having a laugh. He had to have a sense of humour to get through what he got through, and to look after those boys.
Brian was kind of a real charmer. Not a smarmy charmer, but nice, and he shone. I think my biggest surprise when I was getting ready to play him, was that this guy is funny and witty and charming, and very much alive. But he also had trouble: he had trauma, he had darkness, and we show that in the play.
He was someone who battled with his sexuality. Do you think LGBT fans will be pleased with how that comes across in the play?
Oh I think so. I’m not really sure he ever battled with his sexuality. But Brian, and I don’t want to talk for him; obviously these are my assumptions as someone who is playing him, I think Brian was as out as he could be. He was never going to compromise his boys, but of course it was a different time. I think it’s incomprehensible for our generation to know what those guys at that time went through, and had to go through. But I don’t think he really battled with it. I think he handled it as well as he could at the time. But the irony is of course that the law changed weeks after he died.
You talked earlier about performing with Will Finlason in this play. What’s it like working with a rising star like that?
I was sort of involved in the auditions and there were some amazing people there, but then Will came in. It’s like if you poured John, Paul, George, and Ringo into a bucket and mixed them up, that was Will. He’s got the humour of John, the looks of Paul, the cheek of George; he’s got the old head on young shoulders of Ringo. And he’s got a lot going for him this lad. And I love the fact that his girlfriend and my wife have become mates now. We’re like this little unit. It’s good, and we’re very aware that our chemistry is very important, and I think he’s going to be a huge star.
This Sunday you’re unveiling a blue plaque for Epstein outside the office of Epstein’s company NEMS. That’s obviously a really big thing for a lot of fans and a lot of people. How did it feel to be asked to do something like that?
Oh I was thrilled. I was honoured. There have been a lot of things that have happened like that since playing Brian, and of course this guy left his mark on the world, so it’s quite apt that there’s a permanent mark in London. Some amazing people are going to be there, and some incredible messages have been sent by the Beatles. To be associated with him, it’s an honour. It’s a real buzz. And again he really deserves it.
This is a really big year for Brian, because obviously it’s his birthday and there’s a lot going on for that…
Yeah. It is. You always look for anniversaries and things, but with this, it’s genuine. It really is. He would have been 80, there’s the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 50 years since the Beatles Invasion in America. It would be wonderful to take him out there. Of course, it would be a dream. And this is a play which was part of a festival in Liverpool, and to get a transfer in the middle of London is… I’m not really thinking much past the end of that. I’d be mad to wouldn’t I?
Epstein – The Man Who Made The Beatles will be at The Leicester Square Theatre in London from 5 August-6 September. Find out more on their website.
Words: Philippa Peall
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