The Go-Between at West Yorkshire Playhouse

NB. This show has since transferred to the West End and is playing at The Apollo Theatre with Michael Crawford playing Colston, 2016. See for tickets and info. I’m working as Associate Movement Director on the show. 

Based on the novel by LP Hartley

Book by David Wood, Music by Richard Taylor, Lyrics by David Wood and Richard Taylor

West Yorkshire Playhouse / Derby Live / Royal & Derngate, Northampton 2011

Associate Direction

★★★★★  The finest new musical to have sprung from the regions all year. (Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph)

‘fluid, choreographic direction, conjure vivid scenes – a fall from a haystack, a village cricket match – through fluid, unshowy movement. This multifaceted gem packs a singular emotional punch’  (The Observer)

The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.

In the heat and humidity of the rural Norfolk summer in 1900, a young boy comes of age as he is unwittingly enlisted as a messanger in an adult affair of deceit and desire.

This is the world premiere of a moving new musical adaptation of LP Hartley’s beautifully wistful novel of naivety, nostalgia and the end of innocence, perhaps best known as a film of the same name starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates.


★★★★  Lyn Gardner, The Guardian 19 September 2011:

The British musical just got more interesting with the arrival of Richard Taylor and David Wood’s exquisitely layered version of LP Hartley’s novel about a young boy’s loss of innocence during a country-house summer in 1900. “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” is the celebrated opening line, and Taylor and Wood are doing things differently, too, with this evocative study of betrayal, class and curses that almost entirely eschews nostalgia and the Broadway musical model.

Such is the subtlety displayed in the telling of the story of 12-year-old Leo that you get the sense Taylor and Wood genuinely love this novel and are not just plundering it. Out of his class and out of his depth while spending a summer with a school chum, Marcus, he finds himself playing the messenger in the illicit love affair between Marcus’s older sister, Marian, and tenant farmer, Ted.

Set on Michael Pavelka‘s atmospheric design, a teetering, crumbling room of memories, the show’s trump card is the intricate dialogue between past and present (1950) – the young, wide-eyed Leo caught up in the dangerous games of adults and learning to lie, and his older self, emotionally crippled by the events of 50 years ago.

It’s not the kind of score you come out humming, but it has moments of aching beauty. It’s also quite a leisurely affair. But its considerable virtues include ambition, being wonderfully alert to the casual entitlements and cruelties of grown-ups – particularly very privileged ones – and a superb, fluid production from Roger Haines. Only someone who had brutally cut all ties with their own childhood selves could fail to appreciate this quietly passionate show that wears its damaged heart on its sleeve.


★★★★★  Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph 15 Sep 2011:

For a moment – well, for about five minutes at the start of this new chamber musical version of LP Hartley’s 1953 novel of childhood innocence lost – the temptation to whisper, “For the love of literature, no!” is almost overpowering.

James Staddon’s elderly, brush-moustached Leo Colston hesitates as he holds the diary that reveals how he came to be an emotional cripple at the tender, in-between age of 13. As he does so, all the figures from his formative summer holiday of 1900 cluster round, urging him to face up to his demons: “We are still here”, “Remember us”, “You have to be brave” and so on.

Could an evening start on a more trite, hackneyed note? But what emerges as soon as Leo’s past has been unleashed, and the older man shadows his boyhood self, is the finest new musical to have sprung from the regions all year. In moving an adult audience with the wistful-making spectacle of early youth, it happily stands comparison with the RSC’s Matilda. And there’s no contest as to which digs deeper into the experience of waking to the world of grown-ups and their dangerous games for the first time, being bruised even as you blossom.

The source material is obviously much stronger, and David Wood (book/lyrics) and Richard Taylor (music/lyrics) succeed in serving the original’s lush lyricism while creating their own distinctive response. Dialogue and song flow together in one seamless, spellbinding whole, full of pulsing warmth, sometimes elegant, sometimes skipping.

The score builds through enchantment and ecstasy – as its juvenile protagonist becomes the trusted intermediary between the young lady of the Norfolk house he’s staying at and her illicit tenant-farmer beau – towards a thunderous denouement.


Mark Shenton, The Stage, 15 September 2011 at 10:55:

The arts council have finally caught onto the idea of funding new musicals with its grants to the writer-led Mercury Musical Developments, the creative backbone of Musical Theatre Matters and the developmental network of Perfect Pitch, and it bears rich fruit with The Go-Between. This musical adaptation of LP Hartley’s 1953 novel, with music by Richard Taylor, book by David Wood and lyrics by both of them, contains the input of members of each, but it was workshopped initially under the auspices of Perfect Pitch and presented to three member theatres, who have now partnered together to bring it to fruition.

They have not only shared the costs, but their audiences will also each reap the creative rewards of being able to see such a distinctive, original and uniquely British musical. Wafting through its shimmering score are echoes from Benjamin Britten to Howard Goodall, with some of Sondheim’s Passion thrown in for good measure, but the haunting tapestry of melody offers a tender canvas for its wistful story to play out on.

This is the novel, of course, also previously adapted for a 1970 Joseph Losey film scripted by Harold Pinter, with its resonant opening sentence, “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” But this musical does things differently, too, offering a beautiful memory play of the summer in a fatherless young boy’s life whose adult self recalls the time he acted as messenger for Marian, engaged to Hugh Trimingham but having an affair with a local farmer Ted Burgess.

In a musical of tender, aching reticence, richly scored for a solitary virtuoso grand piano that manages to sound like an entire orchestra, the characters come fully and thrillingly alive, with Sophie Bould in radiant voice as Marian and Stephen Carlile and Stuart Ward superbly registering the competitive claims over her by Trimingham and Ted. Leo Snr is robustly taken by James Staddon, but it is Jake Abbott, sharing the role of his younger twelve-year-old self who is about to turn 13 with Edward Cooke, who steals the show as the kid who finds himself unwittingly caught up in very adult games.



Director: Roger Haines

Design: Michael Pavelka

Sound: Mic Pool

Lighting: Tim Lutkin

Musical Direction: Jonathan Gill

Cast: Edward Cooke, Jake Abbott, William James Mercer, John James Cairns, Sophie Bould, Stuart Ward, James Staddon, Stephen Carlile, Philip Cox, Richard Kent, Fiona O’Carroll, Gemma Page, Chris Theo-Cook