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24 September 2014

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The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away
The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away
The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away

The Allan Williams Story - the play

New Theatre, Dublin

Review: Spencer Leigh

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Dublin - Many regard Allan Williams, the self-proclaimed ‘man who gave the Beatles away’, as rock’s ultimate loser, the small-time coffee-bar owner who missed out on millions. The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away, a new musical by Irish playwright Ronan Wilmot, running at the New Theatre in Dublin from October to December 2002, shows, very affectionately, that he wasn’t the man for the job and was better suited to running slightly shady clubs in his beloved Liverpool. The play features both a young and an old Allan Williams (Darren McHugh and Pearse Butler, respectively) and when the younger man asks the other, "Was it worth it?", he responds, "You bet." Of course, because Williams’s life has been transformed by his brief association with the Beatles: he is now a globe-trotting pensioner guesting at one Convention after another, and a second volume of his memoirs will appear in 2003.

There has to be dramatic licence, so I never expect a biographical play to offer total accuracy. As this musical is based on Williams’ own hyperbolic reminscences, I expected even less, but it doesn’t matter. The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away tells you much about Allan Williams’s relationship with the Beatles and is performed with such enthusiasm that you are sucked into the story. Almost everywhere though, something is wrong - this John Lennon plays bass and the play has you believe that they wrote "I’ll Get You" in 1960 and performed "Twist And Shout" (with Neil O’Farrell as Paul on lead vocal) before it was even recorded by the Isley Brothers. They have their Hamburg sound long before they reach Hamburg and if that were so, Williams would have been incredibly naive not to recognise their potential.

Ronan Wilmot shows that the leader of the Beatles was John Lennon. On the opening night, Allan’s former wife, Beryl, said, "You’ve got John Lennon exactly right. He always had to have the last word." And a funny one at that. Allan’s marriage to a Liverpool Chinese girl, played by Secret Huang, is well handled, but, in reality, there was opposition from both families to this match.

Pearse Butler is very good as the elder Williams and his ten minute monologue about his childhood and the death of his mother is a tour de force. Three of Butler’s sons are in the band - Kevin (John Lennon), Daragh (George Harrison) and Damien (Tommy Moore, Norman Chapman and Pete Best - presumably Beatle drummers before Ringo Starr were interchangeable!). They are not lookalikes but you can believe in the characters they are playing. To the accompaniment of "You Really Got A Hold On Me", the death of Stu Sutcliffe (Anthony Fox) is handled very sympathetically - although the author should have included Williams’s take on what had happened and surely Stu’s girlfriend, Astrid Kirchherr (Martha Van der Bly), always wore black. Allan Williams fell out with the Beatles over the payment of 10 per cent commission and, with hindsight, this was fortunate as it paved the way for Brian Epstein.

As they say in the business, The Man Who Gave The Beatles Away has legs and is expected to travel to Liverpool and other parts of the UK. It is not difficult to stage and would be perfect for any Beatles convention, perhaps with a third Allan Williams to hand with his comments.

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