The Go-Between is a new musical based on the novel of the same name by L P Hartley, which was originally published in 1953.
I may be out of the loop as a reviewer on this one, as I have neither read the original novel, nor have I seen the 1971 film starring Julie Christie and Michael Bates, nor the 2015 BBC TV adaptation, so I approached the show with a fresh mind.
The Go-Between is a memory play that centres on Leo Colston. As a young man he spent a summer at Brandham Hall in Norwich, with a school friend Marcus. When Marcus falls ill, Leo inadvertently becomes a covert messenger between Marian and a local Farmer Ted who are having a clandestine affair. As Marian is already engaged to Viscount Trimingham, it’s just a matter of time before things go wrong. The story is conveyed as Older Leo returns many years later and has to confront the actions that occurred so many years ago.
The set for The Go-Between is static, what looks like a huge overgrown country mansion. Large windows hang open, weeds and grasses are rampant, yet in the midst of the decay is a large chest containing old books and young Leo’s diary which spurs his memories. Older Leo is haunted by the ghosts of events past, as one by one, the characters in the drama are revealed.
So far so good, but The Go-Between quickly degenerates into a mire of blandness, from which it never recovers despite the best efforts of some of the cast.
As Older Leo, Michael Crawford seems more than suitable casting. His stooped, whispy Leo is onstage throughout, watching as the ghosts of the past unveil the story. It’s a great performance in an ill-advised musical.
He consistently talks to, and later challenges his younger self, played at this performance by William Thompson. Both Thompson and Archie Stevens as Marcus (Young Leo’s school friend) threaten several times to steal the show from underneath all of the adult performers. Their spirit bursts off the stage mainly thanks to the wonderfully written dialogue provided by David Wood.
As Marion, Gemma Sutton is utterly charming. It’s easy to see why Young Leo would be attracted to her. Stuart Ward plays Ted, who first appears bathing at the riverbend. As with Marian, Ted easily befriends the young Leo, and ever so subtly, he is woven into the drama. Both are charming and immensely likeable but it’s perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of this show, that each adult in the piece can turn on a dime, and become nasty, self-centred individuals when their situations change. Sutton and Ward are wonderful to watch, and along with Crawford and the two boys bring some of the more memorable moments to an utterly bland evening. I’m aware I keep using that word, but it’s hard to describe it otherwise.
The majority of the cast of The Go-Between work hard to keep the show alive. Stephen Carlisle’s Trimingham, Julian Forsyth’s Mr Maudsley and Silas Wyatt-Barke’s Denys are particularly good, but even they are overcome the lack-lustre score by Richard Taylor.
The accompaniment for The Go-Between comes from a solo piano positioned on stage, played beautifully by Nigel Lilley. It was noted though at intermission by those sitting around me that a solo-piano accompaniment for a West End show, at normal west-end prices, was a disappointment to say the least, and I have to say I am in agreement. However, a bigger orchestra could not add any dynamic to this score.
Apparently The Go-Between started life as a play, and for once the book here, written by David Wood, is not the problem here. The Go Between fails because of its score, which fails at every hurdle. If you are going to The Go-Between to hear Michael Crawford perform Phantom(ish) songs you will be sorely disappointed. There are no real songs, and no memorable moments when it comes to the score for this show.
Perhaps on repeated listens I might come to appreciate the score more but I’d be hard pressed to spend money on another ticket when there are so many other shows that I am wanting to see in the West End.