21 July 2016
A celebrated novel about persistent recollection has now become a distant memory for its earliest readers. Anyone who was on the brink of their teens – the age of the book’s protagonist, Leo Colston, for most of the action – when L.P. Hartley’s novel The Go-Between came out in 1953 would now be 75, a decade senior to the “old Leo” who narrates the novel. He looks back on a summer of becoming the “postman” for dangerous love letters between Marian Maudsley, aristocratic daughter at The Hall, and Ted Burgess, burly working-class tenant of The Farm.
Many memories of Hartley’s novel will have become blurred with the 1971 film version (brilliantly scripted by Harold Pinter), with Julie Christie and Alan Bates as the cross-class lovers, or the BBC1 remake last year.
So it seems right that the new musical version of The Go-Between focuses on the infuriating tendency of memory to be simultaneously tenacious and slippery. Old Leo, sung by Michael Crawford in one of his now rare theatrical appearances, is on stage throughout, shadowing as closely as a bodyguard Young Leo, who acts out the events of the months in Edwardian Norfolk when the 12-year-old’s happiness and innocence were irreparably damaged.
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