Thursday, 9 June 2016

Review The Go-Between

The Go-Between
Music and Lyrics By Richard Taylor
Book and Lyrics by David Wood
Based on the novel by LP Hartley

Singing Volumes

Written near the beginning of Britain's welfare state in 1953, The Go-Between, now adapted into an intimate chamber musical, is a novel of innocence, deception and awakening harking back to the twilight of Queen Victoria's reign.

This recent musical reminded TLT and her faithful motorised valet of a beautifully tooled old leather bound book gilded with ever so faintly tarnished gold leaf and rustling with thick vellum pages. 

Some will take it off the shelf and enjoy the expected tactile and literary pleasures. Others will  have a may-as-well take-a-peek curiosity and find themselves surprised, ambushed by an intricate multi-threaded web. While others may flick through the pages, then shrug their shoulders and go back to reading their mobile phone or tablet screen.

The musical is structured as a memory piece with bespectacled tweed suited Leo Colston (Michael Crawford) looking back to the summer of 1900. 

The son of a bank manager's widow 12 year old Leo has been invited to stay at the Norfolk family estate of a much wealthier schoolboy friend, Marcus Maudsley (William Thompson and Archie Stevens respectively on a rota with Johnny Evans Hutchinson and Luka Green as Leo and Samuel Menhinick and Matty Norgren as Marcus).

Marcus's parents  (Issy Van Randwyck and Julian Forsyth) treat Leo kindly if somewhat absent-mindedly but Marcus's elder sister Marian (Gemma Sutton), on whom Leon develops a crush, is the only one  sensitive to his precarious status as, presumably, a poor scholarship boy amidst much richer, fee-paying pupils.

But her care turns out to be double edged - grooming him for his role as "postman", taking messages, for her illicit, and ultimately doomed, love affair with a tenant farmer Ted Burgess (Stuart Ward).

Musically The Go-Between falls somewhere between what people commonly accept now as a musical and opera or operetta, using recitative. The twists and turns of the story have primacy, the tale telling heightened by a sole piano played by musical director Nigel Lilley rather than a band or orchestra.

At first TLT and her vintage hatchback felt the older Leo as narrator finding his childhood diary in an old trunk was a rather clumsy clichéd device, not helped by a large theatre feeling outsized for this delicate chamber musical.  

But, even with this reservation, gradually the union of expressive music and the lyrics with their multiple resonances drew us in, at times drawing rueful laughs as the difference between the audience's adult perception and the naivety of the young boy became clear. 

Well-paced with enormous attention to detail by director Roger Haines, The Go-Between benefits from a chiaroscuro bronze and gold Brandham Hall  set designed by Michael Pavelka, with lighting by Tim Lutkin, where the characters emerge around Leo as the diary entries summon them back.

And all the characters have their place in all the senses of the word and push the story forward.  

From the servant clearing up, whom the spirited Marcus informs his schoolmate with teflon ease, is "what he is for!" through Marcus's brother Denys (Silas Wyatt-Barke) overheard in snippets of conversation discussing politics and economics and the father periodically noting rising mercury in the barometer whose very calmness ratchets up the tension.  

Plus the Viscount (Stephen Carlile) scarred from fighting in imperial campaigns but with the novelistic manner of an eighteenth century anti-hero to the single-minded mother, Mrs Maudsley, whose efforts to arrange her child's life take an unforseen and tragic turn.  

Equally powerfully Leo stumbling into the Kiplingesque all-male smoking room which hardens his determination to act as a grown-up while having no comprehension of adult subtexts is adroitly handled dramatically and musically.  

This ain't no Mary Poppins child's rite of passage and you don't come out humming the tunes. 

One of the nearest sung pieces to a full blown musical theatre song is called  Butterfly, beautifully sung by the older Leo while the younger spreads his arms in a delicate emerging-from-the-chrysalis mime. Yet, this felt like either a woman's song or a duet for woman and man, or woman and boy maybe unwittingly at odds with each other.  

 With a first-rate cast, The Go-Between's cunning time shifts and deep literary roots reflect meticulously and with inherent theatricality fiction's own disproportionate, sometimes dysfunctional and destructive, influence on politics, economics, on how women are viewed.  

In its final moments with  Leo's ultimate double edged utterance, as his younger self is finally laid to rest, there is a conclusive but open-ended verdict on past and future.  We give this an amber/green light for a moving, ingeniously nostalgic and forward-looking piece

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