The Go-Between

Last year I fell in love with the musical adaptation of The Go-Between at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and have been meaning to read the book since. Although I still haven’t got round to it, when I saw that a radio adaptation was being broadcast this week I was interested to see how it compared to the musical.

As well as being excellent in its own right, the radio adaptation brought back memories of the musical, which had a beautiful score that perfectly captured the emotions of the story. Being on radio, I was able to apply my memories of the musical to the adaptation; my view of it may have been different if I hadn’t seen the musical or if I had read the book.

While the musical’s set conjured a beautiful sense of the period, one of the benefits of radio drama is its ability to create a framework around which the listener constructs their own ideas. The simplicity of radio drama lends itself both to pared-down storytelling and to dramas set in lavish locations, or which would require extensive special effects (such as The Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy). I find the power of the audience’s imagination fascinating; just as theatre productions with the most minimal sets and props can be the most effective, radio is perhaps the most diverse dramatic medium and provides endless possibilities.

The Go-Between explores the theme of entrapment, whether by family duty, societal expectations or personal feelings. Marian’s mother is plagued by worries over her daughter’s impending nuptials while Marian is forced into an unwanted marriage, and her duty prevents her from pursuing her relationship with the famer Ted. Meanwhile both Ted and Marian force Leon into continuing as their ‘go-between’, playing on his devotion to Marian and disregarding his discomfiture. It is this involvement of a child, who cannot comprehend their affair, that results in the final tragedy.

While I felt that the drama was very good, it was perhaps less emotionally engaging than the musical. This may have been due to the excellent music, or the presence of a real person on stage putting a face to the voice. However, I feel that it was probably down to the fact that although the musical also told the story from the viewpoint of Leo, the other characters received further elaboration than was allowed in the radio drama and the audience therefore felt a greater investment in them. Despite this, standing on its own Radio 3’s The Go-Between remains an interesting and emotive look at love and deception at the turn of the twentieth century.

2 thoughts on “The Go-Between

  1. I love this book – one of my all time favourites – and I’ve just seen the Julie Christie / Alan Bates film for the first time. Have you seen it? I was expecting something very dated but it was really a very good adaptation marred only by confused handling of the future Marion and Leo at the end. My husband had no idea of what was happening at that point having never read the book. I must catch-up with the radio version if it is still available.

    I agree with what you say about radio drama. The imaginative possibilities make it feel more like reading. There is so much work you have to do within your own head.

  2. I really need to read the book. I haven’t seen the film – also something I’m meaning to get round to. I hadn’t thought about radio like that, but it is definitely more like reading than visual drama.

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