Surprisingly Spectacular: THE GO-BETWEEN at the Apollo

I know it's harsh to say it, but I thought I was going to hate The Go-Between from the moment it was announced late last year. Despite the fact I love Michael Crawford's iconic performance as The Phantom as well as when I saw him as the titular character in The Wizard of Oz a few years back, everything about this show screamed boring and mundane to me. 

As time progressed, my enthusiasm picked up, but was knocked right back down again by the mediocre reviews the show received earlier this week, so it took me by surprise when I left the theatre feeling extremely pleased with what I just saw. I don't know if it's the low expectations I went into the show with, but there is something so classically beautiful about this new British musical that captured my heart for the better.

The musical is based upon the classic novel by L.P. Hartley from 1953 and is widely known for its many different stage and film adaptations that have come before this one. For those who don't know, it's a story about a young evacuee who has gone to live with a wealthy family in Norfolk. Upon arrival, young Leo befriends the family's youngest son Marcus, but also ends up falling deeply in love with Marcus' older sister Marian. Throughout the story, Leo is at Marian's beckon call for whenever the lady herself and her adulterous lover Ted from the farm across the field want to exchange messages: he's their messenger, or "go-between" as it's so politely phrased. It really isn't the most enthralling story when you spell it out like that, but this magical interpretation gives it real depth and power, which is remarkable considering how minimalist it is.

The minimalism is actually what fascinated me the most. Despite being almost entirely sung-through, the entire ensemble of voices are accompanied only by pianist on a grand piano sat in the back corner of the stage, as though he is part of the scenery. The score that pianist and musical director Nigel Lilley plays - written by composer Richard Taylor with lyrical duties shared between him and David Wood - is stunning. There is something Sondheim-esque about it which, combined with the time period and design, reminded me significantly of A Little Night Music, as I said on Twitter. It's a stunning score with dissonant harmonies and a truly lyrical nature; it's definitely the most special part of the whole piece.

In regards to set design, it never changes from being the interior of a very dirty looking grand hall with weeds growing through the floorboards. Instead, chairs and human physicality are used - along with beautiful lighting by Tim Lutkin - to take you around the British countryside. A large chest is also centre stage throughout the entire piece and props are retrieved from there throughout. It's magical, ingenious and designer Michael Pavelka has done an absolutely fantastic job.

The cast of The Go-Between, now playing at London's Apollo Theatre

The lack of design elements of course requires a fantastic cast and this show certainly has one, boasting one of the strongest ensemble efforts in the West End that I have seen in a long while. Michael Crawford's performance as the more senior Leo Colston is wonderful, if even a little bit forgettable. Of course it is wonderful to see a legend like Crawford take on the role and the performance isn't bad by any means, but it's clearly a very thankless role; Crawford simply follows the action throughout the entire piece, only being vocal during very certain moments, which is when you remember that he is still stood there. It's fantastic from a story perspective because you're not supposed to remember that he is stood there, but it doesn't make him the star of the show. In fact, I think the star of the show is a two-way split between Gemma Sutton as Marian and Luka Green as the younger Leo. 

Sutton - who I've seen before in Gypsy - not only has a stunning voice, but is beautifully commanding as this goddess-like woman that she is seen to be in the story. She is a perfect fit for this idealistic, early 20th century young woman and her crystal clear soprano is a testament to that: it's a performance that I don't want to be forgetting any time soon. Luka Green is also mesmerising to watch, as it always is when a child as young as Green is on stage constantly throughout the piece, non-stop working. Sustaining a performance like that with all of its physical and vocal demands is a challenge for actors with years of experience behind them, so props to Green for being just as spectacular. He didn't miss a spot throughout the piece and it was just as rewarding as a spectator as I'm sure it was for him as an actor.

Yes, The Go-Between might well not have the best marketing campaign in the world, but that shares no correlation with the spectacular piece that is being performed on that stage every night. This soaring score is one of the most daring I have seen a new musical attempt in a very long time - never mind the fact that composer Richard Taylor is new to the West End - and the risks this team has decided to take are very much appreciated: they don't make new musicals like this anymore.

Thank you very much to Stagedoor App for putting my bum on that seat last night as well as the delightful community. You can see more reviews of 'The Go-Between' over on their website now.

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