How nice to be in the Epstein, now the Epstein’s here. The last gig we attended here was a good ten years ago and the then-Neptune Theatre was a rather sorry sight.

Oh sure, there was an obvious baroque elegance to it all, but there was something frayed at the seams about it all; as a municipal theatre the Neptune had bravely struggled on, but it looked desperately tired and the facilities virtually non-existent.

We’ve been chuffed to bits to see the theatre renovated and reborn as the Epstein, with a hefty injection of cash to spruce the place up and a vote of confidence in Sound City as the venue’s operators to bring a rich variety of acts to the curious city-centre space.

Booking Neil Innes and Liverpool’s Mike Livesley was a great start, with the two performers joining forces to celebrate the life and work of Vivian Stanshall in How Nice! To Be In England, a portmanteau performance that’s bookended by comedic interludes from Innes.

Melding two shows together in this way, especially working in Livesley’s one-man performance of Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, takes some doing but the show flows wonderfully between the amusing and often musical observations of Innes and the deep absurdity of Rawlinson End.

Innes is surely at that notional ‘national treasure’ level of wonderfulness, with a career that forms a rich connective tissue between The Beatles, the Pythons, The Bonzos and a more besides.

If we had our way there’d be a Neil Innes TV channel – and there’s probably enough material over five decades to do it. If there was one drawback to the evening it’s that we didn’t see enough of the man, though his reunion with Livesley on stage at the end of the night was a lovely moment.

We lauded Livesley and his astonishing take on Vivan Stanshall’s comedy record before, but it bears repeating. The show has evolved and improved since the last time and Livesley seems more inclined towards fourth-wall asides, serving to make the performance even more intimate; as if we’re all part of a wonderful joke that only the audience know about.

The versatile band that accompanies Livesley on his musical numbers really add to the experience, covered in cobwebs as if they’ve been put in storage in Rawlinson End like musical Havershams.

The end of the night concludes with a medley of Stanshall and Innes songs, Livelsey as a betweeded and dearstalkered Sir Henry whirring a funnelonium crazily around his head, with Innes imploring the audience to support the venue.

It’s a glorious end to a lovely night and a lovely way to revisit the theatre, now resplendent in finery and boasting a bar that’s open throughout the day.

How nice to be in the Epstein.

Images courtesy of Brian Roberts

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