The Go-Between**** (Apollo Theatre)

Posted: June 8, 2016 in Theatre

the_go_between__gallery_image“The past is a foreign country…” begins LP Hartley’s 1953 novel on which this new musical is based and, taking the leading role, Michael Crawford sets out to prove that he is far from ready to be exiled to that country. He is Leo Colston, played in Joseph Losey’s hauntingly beautiful 1971 film version by another Michael, Redgrave, but here the role is much expanded so that Colston is on stage almost throughout, mingling with the characters involved in the events that scarred him 50 years earlier, during three weeks of an idyllic Norfolk Summer when his 13th birthday fell. Fatherless young Leo is visiting the country estate that is home to the upper class family of his schoolfriend and he comes to act as messenger between the boy’s older sister, the beguiling Marian (Gemma Sutton) and her secret lover, the lowly tenant farmer Ted Burgess (Stuart Ward), with tragic consequences. The show is not quite sung through, but exquisite lyrics by Roger Taylor and David Wood blend seamlessly with the spoken words in Wood’s book to tell the story clearly and fluently. Taylor’s classical style score is melodic but understated and the only musical accompaniment comes from Nigel Lilley playing a grand piano on the side of the stage. Simplicity gives the show its power and Roger Haines’ richly imaginative direction incorporates choreographed movement that removes the need for detailed sets. Designer Michael Pavelka seems to have realised that the Apollo itself gives a perfect period feel and his elegant colourless costumes (except for young Leo’s Lincoln green suit) also add greatly to the creation of a ghostly feel of a bygone era. Temptations to commercialise the show with set-piece songs are stubbornly resisted; for example.a big romantic love duet between Marian and Ted seems inevitable, but it never comes. We are allowed to see only what the young Leo has seen, and Wood is always faithful to the essence of Hartley’s novel. Colston  is an unusually solemn role for Crawford, but he handles it well and his plea to his younger self to never grow up is simply heartbreaking. Sutton and Ward are also cast perfectly, Issy Van Randwyck is the house’s fierce matriarch and Stephen Carlile is icily aristocratic as Marian’s betrothed. Aimed at a niche market, this Sondheim-style chamber musical is a gem, not at all the type of show that we expect to see getting its premiere run in the West End. In New York, where little shows that are similar in tone such as Fun Home or Grey Gardens, become lauded, this might be a safe bet for several Tony nominations, but here West End producers seem to have become blinded by the notion that “British musical” can only mean throwing some trashy Europop songs into an ill-suited film plot. So, big congratulations to everyone behind The Go-Between for having the courage to bring to the stage a show that sets out to prove that this country can also make a contribution to the advancement of musical theatre as an art form.

Performance date: 4 June 2016

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