The latest production gracing the stage at the Apollo Theatre is the musical adaptation of L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between.
It tells the story of one summer in the life of Leo Colston – in 1900 he went to stay in the country house, Brandham Hall, home to his school friend Marcus. He arrives an innocent schoolboy, anticipating a glorious summer, but inadvertently gets involved in affairs of the adult world, which eventually leads to tragedy. Because of this, Leo retreats into himself & only in his twilight years does he decide to let his memories out.
Leo’s older self is always present, often narrating his memories from the diary he kept at the time – but also noticing the key moments where he wished he could have done things differently. It is interesting to see much of it through a child’s eyes, but with the added benefit of hindsight & an adult’s view of the world.
The show is sung-through; a heady mix of solos & multi-layered harmonies (almost choral in sound), all accompanied by Nigel Lilley on a single piano. It seems appropriate to the setting, and shows off the potential of the human voice as a musical instrument. This is a bold choice, in our current world of onstage actor-musicians & large pit bands – and one which is probably not to everyone’s taste. For me, as a pianist, it is a thrill to hear such a beautiful, classical score setting the foundation for a West End show. Admittedly, there aren’t really any hooks that live long in the memory, but it’s more the emotion the music induces that is important here. It’s not all about who has the catchiest riff.
The set remains the same throughout; only the chairs get rearranged every now & then. It has the air of a haunted house on first inspection – quite appropriate as Leo finally greets the ghosts of his past. Michael Pavelka’s design is multi-purpose & evocative, creating a wonderful space for the company to bring the story to life.
Choreography & movement are integral parts of making the show work, visually – given the lack of scene changes & props. A particularly good example being the re-creation of Leo falling down a straw stack at Ted Burgess’ farm. The chairs are used to bring some variation in height, especially effective as Leo’s memories seem to overpower him.
Tim Lutkin’s lighting design also plays a key role, with some subtle changes of intensity & shade. The lightning effect in the second act is particularly successful – and has an authentic feel, especially with the thunderous noise that accompanies it (thanks to sound design from Olivier nominated Matt McKenzie).
The company all work very well together, in movement & in song, but there are some clear standouts.
At this performance, Archie Stevens took the role of Marcus – he has the airs of an upper class child down to a tee! He is lively & very entertaining to watch. Stuart Ward brings Ted’s aggression to the fore, but also shows a softer side in most of his interactions with Leo. His voice is powerful and easily identifiable, setting him apart from the Maudsleys & their social circle.
Gemma Sutton has a crystal clear voice, and plays Marian how Leo would have seen her: an innocent & pretty young woman. “Nothing is ever a lady’s fault”, as Trimingham says. There is an occasional glint in her eye that suggests something more, though Sutton could probably take it a bit further.
Marcus’ older brother, Denys, isn’t an especially key player in the story – however he is brought charmingly to life by Silas Wyatt-Barke. His tenor voice is strong and rings out with ease. He is responsible for many of the much-needed lighter moments in the show, a particular highlight being Denys’ song about all of the dangerous creatures that could be roaming the Norfolk countryside. Wyatt-Barke is an exceptional talent – and definitely one to watch.
Having practically been in retirement for the past few years, it is a brilliant return to the stage for Michael Crawford. His voice is in remarkable condition, especially considering he is making a comeback aged 74. The whole show is quite emotionally driven, and you can hear a touch of tenderness in his voice as Leo recalls fond memories – it perhaps needs a bit more at times, but this can probably be forgiven. Crawford is a reassuring presence onstage, and his fans will certainly not be disappointed.
My verdict? A haunting score that is beautifully played & sung – this is a welcome return to the West End for Michael Crawford with standout performances from a talented company.
The Go-Between runs at the Apollo Theatre until 15 October 2016. Tickets are available online and from the box office – £25 day seats are now on offer.