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Review Roundup: THE GO-BETWEEN, with Michael Crawford

Michael Crawford returns to the London Stage in a new musical, based on the famed novel The Go-Between.

Based on the classic novel by L. P. Hartley and adapted by David Wood, THE GO-BETWEEN is a new musical with a score written by Richard Taylor. Michael Crawford plays Leo Colston, a man who can no longer hide from the memories of his past. Memories of the gloriously hot summer of 1900 and of his days spent in Norfolk come flooding back. Spending the holidays with the family of his school friend Marcus in their luxuriouscountry home, the young Leo finds himself acting as the go-between for the beautiful upper-class Marian and tenant-farmer Ted who are embroiled in a forbidden love affair. The innocent Leo gets caught up in the adult world of deceit and manipulation as he risks everything in this deeply moving coming of age story. The events of that summer and the devastating effects of love denied will shape his life forever.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Robert Diamond, BroadwayWorld: By show's end and a thunderous standing ovation later, I can report that five plus decades into his career, not only has Michael Crawford not lost a step vocally or in his ability to mine a character - but that he's drawing on that wealth of expertise and stage craft to create another powerful and unique creation, that of the older Leo Colston. Crawford is on stage for the entire show, functioning as both narrator and being involved in the action. Set in 1900, it's a story about memories, with the present looking back on the past. As the opening line of the novel reads "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." Reading from his diary about a seminal summer in his younger years, his memories come to life - taunting and haunting him in reaction to the mistakes made by a naive youth driven by first love. Throughout the evening, there's almost two shows going on simultaneously - watching both the action itself unfurling on the stage and in Crawford's mind. With heartbreaking expressions, gestures and, of course, words and music, it's clear that he carries the weight of the world (and the show) on his drawn-in shoulders. As the plot thickens, there's no doubt as to where both the eyes and ears are drawn. Each time he opens his mouth, he displays his still powerful and delicate tenor.

Paul Taylor, Independent: The show unfolds as shimmering web of singing and dialogue - it's scored for a solitary on-stage grand piano from which Nigel Lilley coaxes rich orchestral colours - and the musical ideas don't often merge in what could traditionally be described as a "number". The glorious exception to this rule is "Butterfly" - a floaty, twirling song of exaltation in which the elderly Colson recalls the release-from-the-chrysalis effect of Marian's favour, while the boy Leo is hoisted aloft, arms out-stretched and undulant, in the Lincoln green suit that she had just bought him. Crawford sings it in a way that piercingly suggests both the vulnerability and the strength that are conferred by remembered rapture.

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail: Aged 74, Michael Crawford is back singing on the West End stage. This time it is not a big, thumping musical such as Phantom or Barnum but a small-scale, daintily operatic adaptation of The Go-Between. LP Hartley's novel is about pukka, 13-year-old Leo Colston, who stays three summer weeks in 1900 at a friend's large house in Norfolk.

Michael Billington, The Guardian: The evening rests heavily on Crawford and William Thompson (one of three boys playing Leo), who are excellent. Crawford, exuding a desiccated sadness, sings Taylor's score beautifully and sculpts each line carefully, so that even a banal lyric such as "the colours were clearer the nearer I flew to her" achieves genuine poignancy. Thompson also catches exactly the bewilderment of the boy Leo and is deftly partnered by Archie Stevens as the more assured Marcus.

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: The focus on Leo's grief also means other strands of the book - notably its comments on the class system - feel relatively played down. If you're explicitly here to see Crawford you probably won't mind, and it is great that somebody is writing new musicals with substantial roles for older performers. But beyond that, it's difficult to see what the exact purpose of this muted, conservative show is.

Fiona Mountford, Evening Standard: The Go-Between, theatre review: Too little light on a dark tale, but Michael Crawford gives affecting performance...There are moments to admire in Roger Haines's production, but the piece needs more power and much better lighting, says Fiona Mountford

Susannah Rose Martin, More of a play with music, The Go-Between sits somewhere in between being a wonderfully refreshing genre and a particularly odd rendition of Hartley's novel. The ensemble loom over Crawford with a sinister presence, which is more bizarre than effective when accompanied by overbearingly insistent operatic tones. A moment of respite was Crawford's heart-wrenchingly poignant "Butterfly" which leaves you fumbling for a tissue.

Neil Norman, The Express: The score by Richard Taylor and David Wood is superb with beautifully crafted shifts in tone and with at least one great song, Butterfly. Hovering throughout the action like a ghost from the future is Crawford's older Leo, watching the steady erosion of his own innocence and helpless to do anything about it. It is a marvellous, wounding performance and it tops a production of subtle humanity.

William J. Connolly, The Gay Times: However, the star of the show is most certainly Michael Crawford. The original Phantom of the Opera star, who we last saw dazzle in the West End as The Wizard in The Wizard of Oz, shows he's still in fine vocal and acting form, chasing his co-stars [William Thompson and Archie Stevens] around the stage on many occasions; Crawford noticeably in almost every scene throughout the night.

Stephen Collins, Live Theatre UK: There are shades of the Phantom, Frank Spencer and even the Wizard Of Oz in Crawford's performance, and he goes out of his way to suggest the world weary load he carries. A straighter, more unadorned performance, simple and full of regretful clarity would have served the overall effect of the musical far better. Old Leo is not a thing of tricks and patches; he is real, direct and broken. Still, the audience went wild for Crawford, leaping to their feet to applaud the great man's return to the stage for the first time in about five years.

Libby Purves, Theatre Cat: Around a derelict room and abandoned trunk, Michael Crawford prowls, a tweedy, damaged old man at the heart of this low-key but unforgettable new musical: singing, remembering, haunted by a diary . It opens with no showy feelgood overture but an almost liturgical harmony as an ensemble of pale ghosts torment him with "We are still here..." . No band: a lone grand piano with Nigel Lilley the musical director , draws harmonies , discords and operatic recitative from the ever-shifting ensemble; who also become , through understatedly beautiful movement, not only characters but a strawstack, flights, a row of shops in 1903 Norwich. The music is sometimes lushly romantic, sometimes borrowing from Edwardian comic-song and ballad, sometimes as eerie and threatening as in an occult thriller. It is a hypnotic show: Sondheimish, in a good way.

TheBeastsPen: So, big congratulations to everyone behind The Go-Between for having the courage to bring to the stage a show that sets out to prove that this country can also make a contribution to the advancement of musical theatre as an art form.

Photo Credit: Johan Persson

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