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The Go-Between review at the Apollo Theatre, London – ‘a haunting new British musical’

William Thompson and Michael Crawford (front) in The Go-Between at the Apollo Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton William Thompson and Michael Crawford (front) in The Go-Between at the Apollo Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Musicals come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but they seldom come more unobtrusive and gently evocative than The Go-Between. It’s a rare thing, an antidote to the West End’s more strident shows. And as with recent British musical like Bend it Like Beckham, Mrs Henderson Presents and Made in Dagenham it might struggle hard to be heard above the din of jukebox shows and Broadway imports written by pop stars.

As delicate as it is delightful, The Go-Between isn’t going to be to everyone’s tastes. But it is a quiet triumph of determination and a true labour of love that, five years after its regional premiere under the developmental umbrella of Perfect Pitch, has finally arrived in the West End.

This musical adaptation of LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, with music by Richard Taylor who also wrote the equally gorgeous Flowers for Mrs Harris at Sheffield Theatres, and whose West End debut this marks, has a shimmering score that echoes everything from Benjamin Britten to Howard Goodall, with some of Sondheim’s Passion thrown in for good measure. This haunting melodic tapestry provides a canvas for its wistful story to play out on. Daringly it’s played by a solitary virtuoso pianist – the brilliant Nigel Lilley, an entire symphony orchestra seemingly in his finger-tips.

 

The story was also previously adapted for the screen in 1970 by Harold Pinter,  and the novel’s resonant opening sentence, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” has become a catchphrase. But this is a musical that dares to do things differently, offering a beautiful memory play of the time in a fatherless young boy’s life. His adult self recalls the time he acted as messenger for Marian, who is engaged to Hugh Trimingham but having an affair with a local tenant farmer, Ted Burgess.

In a musical of tender, aching reticence, the characters come fully and thrillingly alive within Roger Haines’s static but sincere staging. Gemma Sutton is in lovely, anxious voice as Marian and Stephen Carlile and Stuart Ward (both reprising roles they played in the show’s 2011 premiere) superbly register the competitive claims over her, as Trimingham and Ted respectively.

A team of three boys rotate as the young Leo who finds himself unwittingly caught up in very adult games. As the older Leo, Michael Crawford makes a welcome late career return to the West End stage. It’s not just star casting; he haltingly and hauntingly registers as a man re-visiting his youth in a performance of gravity and dignity.

Verdict
Haunting new British musical offers a darkly textured journey into the past
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