Here's an unambiguously, but not unambitiously, small-scale musical: I hope its infinitely delicate pleasures are not swamped in a West End that craves bigger spectacles. But with Thriller Live playing right next door - and Les Miserables and Motown further up Shaftesbury Avenue - it's a joy to welcome a tender, truthful original British musical to London that isn't made up of old pop hits or has been kicking around for over thirty years now, declaring 'One Day More' but simply notching up one year more, year after year.
The altogether more modest The Go-Between, by contrast, is only booked to run to the middle of October, and although co-producer Bill Kenwright was responsible for the nearly quarter of a century run of another British musical Blood Brothers in the West End, this wistful, quietly wonderful show is a refreshingly English-scaled and scored story that grips and beguiles with the best of them.
It is the result of a long development process initiated by new musical incubator Perfect Pitch, who originally produced it in collaboration with three regional theatres in 2011. I saw it then in Leeds, and it has taken five more years for it now to arrive in London.
It has been worth the wait. But it has taken a bit of star casting to make it happen. That star is Michael Crawford, and at the age of 74 and after being struck down with ME, he has now recovered and is back where he belongs: centrestage in a musical on Shaftesbury Avenue. Over the last 40+ years, he has created the title roles in the West End in Billy, Barnum and most famously The Phantom of the Opera; and he's back here in the title role again, this time reflecting on a period when he was a boy when he acted as the go-between - a 'postman' messenger - of love notes between an aristocratic engaged woman and her lover, a tenant farmer.
It's fair to say that Crawford's vocal instrument is not what it was in his Phantom heyday exactly 30 years ago. But it adds poignancy and gravitas of the passing time that the show is partly about, as he now tries to make sense and amends for what turns out to have been a deep-rooted childhood trauma.
Best known for a film version of the story that starred Julie Christie and Alan Bates in 1970, LP Hartley's novel famously opened with the statement, "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there". This musical does things differently, too, with composer Richard Taylor and book writer David Wood providing a delicately textured score and nuanced story that evocatively draws a tender portrait of the past as it impacts on the present.
A marvellous cast also includes Gemma Sutton as Marian, the woman having an affair with Stuart Wood's Ted and Stephen Carlile as her fiance.
I fervently hope it finds an audience. It deserves to.
What the popular press had to say...
"There’s no getting round the awkward fact, though, that Crawford’s best days as a stage-actor are now behind him...Worth a look, then, but not queuing round the block to see."
Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph
"There's no danger of mistaking The Go-Between for a noisy blockbuster but that doesn't signify any shortage of ambition in this enthralling, beautifully textured chamber-musical version of the L P Hartley novel about a boy's loss of innocence during a country house visit in the scorchingly hot summer of 1900."
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"It is all done with taste and style. But although the text is shot through with references to Icarus, the story never quite flies because we cannot escape its catastrophic effect on the adult Leo. The novel, as so often, proves a foreign country; they do things differently there."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"The story begins slowly, in silence. You want to scream ‘oh get ON with it!’ Richard Taylor’s music, delivered by an on-stage piano, is frustratingly plinkety-plonk. It sounds like a pastiche of Stephen Sondheim. Slowly, however, this fruit ripens. A surfeit of recitative yields to tight, a capella harmonies."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail
"... there are things to admire in Roger Haines’s production. Michael Crawford is affecting as the grown-up Leo Colston, a husk of a man whose life has been dominated by the letter-carrying events of three hot summer weeks half a century before."
Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard