London theatre review: The Go-Between

Date Posted: 09/06/2016

Gemma Sutton, William Thompson, Michael Crawford, Credit Johan Persson

Pictured: Gemma Sutton, William Thompson, Michael Crawford. Photo credit Johan Persson.

Sarah Holt reviews the West End’s new musical The Go-Between, starring Michael Crawford.

If you’re a Phantom super fan, like myself, you might be pleased to hear that Michael Crawford is back on the West End stage.

In his first major musical role for a decade, he’s playing Leo Colston in The Go-Between, an adaptation of L P Hartley’s classic novel.

If you weren’t aware of this, you’d be forgiven. The launch of Motown the Musical in February and Aladdin in May have shouldered this one out of the lime light to a certain extent.

Set in the 1900s, the story begins when Colston (Crawford) decides to confront a series of painful memories from his past.

The memories relate to the summer he spent on a Norfolk estate as a child, staying with the family of his school friend Marcus, and his unwitting involvement as a messenger between a couple having an affair; upper class Marian and tenant farmer Ted.

As soon as Colston decides to reminisce, the action on stage goes back in time, to bring his memories to life.

Crawford is omnipresent on the stage at all times, as he watches his past play back in front of him.

For all this talk about Crawford, though, and despite the fact that his face is the only one on the posters and programmes for the show, the former Phantom is not the star.

Jenni Bowden, Issy van Randwyck, Gemma Sutton, Stuart Ward, Luka Green (Helen Maybanks)

Pictured: Jenni Bowden, Issy van Randwyck, Gemma Sutton, Stuart Ward, Luka Green. Photo crdit Helen Maybanks.

The two boys who play childhood Leo and his friend Marcus are the mortar that hold the bricks of this production together.

At times, during his performance as young Leo, William Thomson almost made me forget Michael Crawford was on stage at all.

Thomson’s stage presence was as good as any lead I’ve seen in the West End this year. A scene in which he’s scolded by Marian for explaining that he doesn’t want to be her messenger any more, was the only part of the show that made me feel something.

Archie Stevens, meanwhile, is a credit to the role of Marcus. His comic timing and flair for characterisation really brought the role to life.

In terms of set, The Go-Between is extremely simplistic. In fact, the same backdrop is used throughout with the actors using elements of physical theatre to imply differences in scene.

There were some nice touches here. For example, when Marian and young Leo go shopping, the rest of the cast hold up bare hangars and Marian mimes to imply she’s in a shop.

What you think of the score will depend on your musical taste.

Composed by Richard Taylor, it’s very much resplendent of Sondheim. Almost every word in the production is sung (with the exception for young Leo’s words in the first act). Taylor designed it this way to be fluid and to ensure that songs did not ‘break up’ the narrative.

The trouble was I found myself wanting a song to break up the narrative. For me, the production was missing the big numbers.

At the time of writing this, I can only recall one stand out song – that was Butterfly, sung by Michael Crawford.

Apart from this, the songs really come across like a melodic stream of consciousness. At points, they sounded more like psalms than show tunes.

Perhaps if your group is an operatic society and your ears are better trained than mine, you might think differently.

One other thing I found myself wanting was a bit of subtlety. The story is very much spelt out for you. It tells rather than shows.

The Go-Between novel is said to have one of the best opening lines in literature. The words ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there’ is said to be up there with ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ from A Tale of Two Cities and ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife’ from Pride and Predjuice.

Is this genius reflected in the West End musical? The people in the audience who gave Michael Crawford a standing ovation at the end of the performance might think so. For me, I’m not entirely sure.

The Go-Between is playing at the Apollo Theatre until 15th October. For more information visit thegobetweenmusical.com.

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