Review: The Go Between – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Every so often the rumor circulates that the British Musical is dead, however, it’s rare that one comes across a new musical so well-crafted that it leaves one struggling for enough suitable superlatives.

If Richard Taylor and David Wood’s adaptation of The Go Between are any marker, fears for the future of British musical theatre appear to be ill-founded.

Based on LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, life in 1900s rural Norfolk seems idyllic; well it does if you are the landed gentry of Brandham Hall. In a stifling summer heat, there’s not a care in the world for the Maudsley family, apart from deciding what social event to attend. Or so it would seem on the surface; however there is more than the summer sun raising the temperature as illicit passions bubble away beneath the surface and the traditional class divides begin to break down.

Fifty years later and, for Leo Colston, the ghosts of half a century ago still haunt him as he replays two life changing weeks he spent as a child at the hall.

The intricate web of social conventions and class boundaries are hard enough for an adult to comprehend at times but, for a 12 year old boy, it’s a mind blowing life of glamour, privilege and ultimately deceit.

Forced to confront his demons from all those years ago, the adult Leo follows his younger self through the Norfolk countryside as he becomes an unwilling conspirator in a love triangle.

These two brief weeks have left an indelible mark on Colston and the ghosts from the past still shape his life. A tale of yearning, passion and betrayal, this is an at times almost too painful tale to watch but, much like a moth drawn to the flame, it is mesmerizingly gripping. Strands of story intertwine fusing dialogue with music to provide a beautiful, evocative narrative.

Roger Haines spot on direction draws out the detail in the drama with closely observed mannerisms and customs of the period adding to the brutal escalation of doomed love. It is a sense of detail mirrored in Michael Pavelka’s impressive design of decaying country house contrasted by pristine period costume, the dark and shattered house a stark contrast to the light and glamorous past.

Taylor’s lush expansive score delivers a rich, almost orchestral sound from a solitary grand piano (played with virtuosity by Musical Director Jonathan Gill), combining complex overlapping choral melodies with achingly beautiful and soaring solos. Melodies intertwine and refrain to create a piece of constantly subtle shifting motifs. There’s a real sense here of a world on the brink of change, not only from the gathering storm to bring relief from the oppressive heat but also a much darker cloud with the onset of the Boar War and the vanishing of a bygone age.

There’s a real sense of yearning in the score, from Marian’s desire for her true love to Leo’s yearning to belong and break into this more privileged lifestyle. By the time the score builds to its climax there’s an almost palpable emotional release from the audience and many a damp eye.

This is an ensemble that doesn’t put a step wrong or miss a beat of the complex score. It’s all drilled to military precision but without loosing the strong characters that have been developed.

There are especially fine performances from Sophie Bould as Marian, Gemma Page as Mrs Maudsley and James Staddon as the elder Colston. It is also impressive to see the company have risen to the challenge of rehearsing a new set of boys for each stop on the tour with William Miles, Richard Linnell, Guy Amos and Adam Bradbury sharing the two young roles and showing impressive stage craft way beyond their tender years.

The Go Between has toured to Leeds, Derby and now Northampton but given its strength must surely go onto a much longer life. If there is a better new British musical this year I’d be very surprised. Let nothing get between you and this remarkable show.

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