'Crawford returns in a touching tale of lost promise'
Aged 74, Michael Crawford is back singing on the West End stage. This time it is not a big, thumping musical such as Phantom or Barnum but a small-scale, daintily operatic adaptation of The Go-Between.
LP Hartley’s novel is about pukka, 13-year-old Leo Colston, who stays three summer weeks in 1900 at a friend’s large house in Norfolk.
Naive Leo becomes embroiled in the affair between his friend’s pert sister and a local farmer.
He runs messages between the two secret lovers and thus loses his innocence.
The play opens more than half a century after that summer adventure. Mr Crawford is adult Leo, now a grandfatherly figure.
Artefacts from his childhood transport him back to those days and for most of the rest of the show Mr Crawford wanders around in the wake of his younger self (played by a boy).
If this sounds a little precious and cluttered, well, it is. The late-Victorian dialogue is arch; the chamber-drama style and silvery lighting accentuate a claustrophobic nostalgia.
Yet there is an artistic ambition here that, by the end, I found admirable. And on Monday night young William Thompson was superb as the boy Leo, nearly upstaging the legendary Crawford.
The story begins slowly, in silence. You want to scream ‘oh get ON with it!’ Richard Taylor’s music, delivered by an on-stage piano, is frustratingly plinkety-plonk. It sounds like a pastiche of Stephen Sondheim.
Slowly, however, this fruit ripens. A surfeit of recitative yields to tight, a capella harmonies.
A memorable song, Butterfly, keeps floating past. Amid the rustle of period-costume silk, Gemma Sutton bewitches as Marian, the upper-class beauty in lust with farmhand Ted (hunky Stuart Ward). Issy Van Randwyck embraces her matronhood as Marian’s mother. Stephen Carlile’s face is part-disfigured as Marian’s scarred, aristocratic suitor.
Young Master Thompson is sharing his role on a shortish (to October) run with two other boys.
Gosh, he’s good. His face twitches with hesitation and he licks his lips nervously, as the part demands.
Then his treble voice soars, a rose in full bloom, just a hint of bruising at the edges as it quivers on the brink of maturity.
This complex evening will not suit all tastes but you leave the theatre touched by the beauty of lost promise.
Author: Quentin Letts
'Enthralling... glorious... beautifully textured, remarkably moving'
Michael Crawford returns to the West End, after a five-year break, in a piece that's appreciably different from the kind of shows (Barnum, The Phantom of the Opera) that rocketed him to stardom. There's no danger of mistaking The Go-Between for a noisy blockbuster but that doesn't signify any shortage of ambition in this enthralling, beautifully textured chamber-musical version of the LP Hartley novel about a boy's loss of innocence during a country house visit in the scorchingly hot summer of 1900.
The adaptation, by composer Richard Taylor and David Wood, employs a device not available to the first-person book nor the 1971 movie, scripted by Harold Pinter and starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates. It fleshes out a dialogue between present and past. A rediscovered diary conjures up the figures from that initially golden three week holiday at the Norfolk pile of an upper-class school-friend. They sternly urge the 62-year-old Leo Colson, whose life has been stunted by his experiences back then, to set them free by confronting his demons. Crawford, now 74, delivers a remarkably moving and sensitively sung performance as this desiccated protagonist, who, with a sad, penetrating gaze, apprehensively abandons his solitude to shadow the 12-year-old version of himself – resulting in disastrous consequences – who was recruited to ferry secret messages between Marian (Gemma Sutton), the beautiful daughter of the house, and her tenant-farmer lover, Ted (Stuart Ward).
The show unfolds as a shimmering web of singing and dialogue – it's scored for a solitary on-stage grand piano from which Nigel Lilley coaxes rich orchestral colours – and the musical ideas don't often merge into what could traditionally be described as a “number”. The glorious exception to this rule is 'Butterfly' – a floaty, twirling song of exaltation in which the elderly Colson recalls the release-from-the-chrysalis effect of Marian's favour, while the boy Leo is hoisted aloft, arms out-stretched and undulant in the Lincoln green suit that she had just bought him. Crawford sings it in a way that piercingly suggests both the vulnerability and the strength that are conferred by remembered rapture.
Most musicals would put a tune as lovely as that through at least one hefty reprise, but the priority here is dramatising the story as powerfully as possible. So the echoes are fragmentary and telling – for example, in the suspended moment when young Leo weighs up whether or not to clasp the proffered hand of Ted, the melody ironically returns as he starts to awaken to the treachery of adult games. Thirteen-year-old William Thompson (one of the three actors rotating in the part) was quite superb the night I saw Roger Haines's production. He shows you a boy, out of his class and on the brink of puberty, whose desire to fit in along with his own confused curiosity lay him bare to exploitation; the sense he imparts of a lad no sooner blossoming than blighted is heart-rending, without the least touch of melodrama.
I can see why some might think that the show, with its silvery attic-of-memory set and its trapped, subjective atmosphere, verges on the precious at points. But, to me, it feels like a labour of love that, while faithful to the original, has a striking imaginative integrity in its own right.
Author: Paul Taylor
Michael Crawford leads the cast of the major new musical The Go-Between, a beautiful and touching adaptation of L.P. Hartley’s classic novel which comes triumphantly into the West End following critical acclaim at West Yorkshire Playhouse.
The Go-Between tells a dramatic and moving coming of age story, explored through vibrant music and passionate song. Leo Colston (played by Michael Crawford), reflects on the hot summer of 1900 spent in Norfolk at the country house of his school friend Marcus, and his unwitting role acting as a go-between for the beautiful upper-class Marian (Gemma Sutton, Gyspy) and tenant-farmer Ted (Stuart Ward, Once).
Their secret love affair, carried out against the wishes of the formidable Mrs Maudsley (Issy Van Randwick, Fascinating Aida), has devastating effects on those around them and in particular young Leo who will be changed forever.