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 The Theatreguide.London Review

The Go-Between
Apollo Theatre  Summer 2016

A sensitive chamber musical adaptation of L. P. Hartley's classic novel captures the flavour and quiet tragedy of the original and provides the occasion for a true star performance. 

An elderly man relives a childhood adventure, realizing for the first time both its full meanings and the effect it had on his whole life.

As a lad he served as the innocent messenger between a pair of illicit lovers, and only by revisiting the story one last time does he free himself from feelings of guilt that have haunted him. 

A recurring trope in the lyrics is some variant on 'How different it would have been if only....', but the musical's climax is not in the end of the remembered story but in the narrator's ability at long last to see his part in it as a positive and life-justifying thing. 

In the adaptation by David Wood (book and lyrics) and Richard Taylor (music and lyrics) and the staging by Roger Haines, Michael Crawford is onstage throughout as the old man reminiscing, narrating, observing and re-interpreting the events that are played out once more. 

And in his quiet, absolutely authoritative performance Crawford reminds us what a true star is. 

I've had several opportunities, in a lifetime of theatre-going, to witness real star performers in action, and they all share one quality beyond their undisputed talent: calm. 

When you own the room just by standing still onstage, you can hold the audience and take them on an emotional journey without seeming to work at it at all. 

Michael Crawford has that quality. In The Go-Between he never fights for our attention – indeed, he is frequently silently hovering in the background of the action. But it is he who holds our focus and guides us toward seeing the other characters through his character's eyes, and it is he who becomes the musical's moral and emotional voice. 

The writers and director have wisely not attempted to expand the intimate story into a large-scale musical. There are high points – a celebration of childhood innocence and happiness in 'Butterfly', the spirited evocation of a cricket match, and the narrator's final song of discovering and accepting the meaning of the episode and his entire life. 

But the show as a whole is played on a relatively bare stage to a single piano. And even then, onstage pianist Nigel Lilley is frequently limited to key-setting introductory notes to delicate a capella recitatives and choral numbers.

(It may be the choral quality that raises occasional half-echoes of the Sondheim of Sunday In The Park and A Little Night Music, though Richard Taylor's musical vocabulary could be said to owe as much to nineteenth-century art songs.) 

Michael Crawford is ably supported by Gemma Sutton and Stuart Ward as the always-sympathetic lovers and a rotating trio of boys as the narrator's younger self. 

There are no falling chandeliers or stirring anthems here, just a delicate and intimate story told with dramatic and musical sensitivity, and presided over by a real star performance, all the more powerful because it is so quiet and unstrained.

Gerald Berkowitz


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Review -  The Go-Between  - Apollo Theatre 2016    

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