Apollo Theatre, London – until 15 October 2016
One can wait for ages for new musical theatre writing to get a commercial outing and then, much like buses, two come at once. So it is for composer Richard Taylor who is enjoying a remarkable spring with The Go-Between, a collaboration with David Woods, opening at the Apollo as his other new show Flowers For Mrs Harris ends its short run in Sheffield.
L P Hartley’s novel, first published in 1953, became a modern English classic. Leo Colston, now in his twilight years, looks back on a summer at the turn of the century when he found himself the young messenger boy between Marian and Ted, two young adult lovers whose illicit and ultimately doomed relationship straddled England’s ruthlessly upheld class divide. While Joseph Losey’s 1971 film of the story achieved recognition at both the Oscars and Cannes, this marks the first time that the tale has been worked into a musical – and a nod to the innovative Perfect Pitch production house for having seen the show through its development.
Where Taylor’s recent Sheffield outing flooded the stage with talent, albeit with no big star on board, the casting feature of The Go-Between is of course England’s grand-daddy of musical theatre and the creator of Lloyd-Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera, Michael Crawford. No celebrity “stunt casting” here, the quality of Crawford’s performance brings real smiles. One would be pushed to find a better man for a role that requires not only emotional but vocal versatility, and while this national treasure may not be hitting Phantom-like notes, his performance is still certainly on the money.
The piece excels musically but the plot is slow. One can’t help but feel that Act One takes a huge amount of time simply setting up their events that follow in the second half. And while the nostalgia is endearing and played beautifully between Crawford and his younger Leo played by William Thompson, the narrative can drag.
Gemma Sutton and Stuart Ward are the tragically destined lovers. Sutton remains one of the finest performers of her generation, bringing a deviously contagious charm to Marian. Likewise, Ward’s Ted is an equally strong, passionate performance. Both Thompson and the other young lad on the night Archie Stevens are extremely talented, the latter’s comic timing and cheeky smile bringing a grin to every audience member.
The brave decision to have the onstage band consisting of nothing more than a sole grand piano works well, complementing the era with fine work from musical director Nigel Lilley. A neat design touch is an attic like storage box from which both Leos change costume throughout, giving the clothes changes a similar feel to a child’s dressing up box.
If The Go Between lacks punch, it’s undoubtedly sound stylistically and offers the chance to see an incredibly strong cast deliver innovative new writing.
Runs until 15th OctoberPhoto credit: Johan Persson