The Go-Between and how not to be haunted by history

A new musical version of a classic tale reminds us to be ruthless with the past, or the past will be ruthless with you

I am fascinated by the relationship between past and present: how easy it is to let the events of our youth affect our present state of mind – indeed, some people allow those events to affect them for their whole lives.

These themes are explored with poignancy and care, and through superb acting and music, in the new musical version of the classic tale by LP Hartley The Go-Between.

The production, which I am delighted to be involved in, stars legendary actor Michael Crawford in the lead role of Leo Colston, a man whose entire life is destroyed by a series of actions carried out in childhood.

In the story, a young Leo is persuaded to act as intermediary, passing messages between Marian, a beautiful young woman whose family are Leo’s hosts, and first her fiancée Lord Trimingham, and then her lover, a handsome local farmer called Ted.

Leo does not know initially he is doing anything wrong, but when the truth behind the messages comes out, his role as the go-between triggers a tragedy. We learn over time that the events changed his life, destroying his self-belief.

Yet when he finally meets Marian in old age, it emerges that she has been able to live, love and move on more easily. It is Leo who was the prisoner of time, not Marian.

Should we all worry about being trapped by the past? Of course. As Buddha says: “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” This is the central premise and power of contemplative meditation.

This is not to say that we cannot learn the lessons of the past; just that we must not become caught up in re-examining them again and again, like a numismatist poring over an old coin, unable to appreciate its value from looking too hard.

But also I would say that we should not try to live too far ahead either. Dreams can inspire but they are not blueprints for life.

The balance is to try our best to live within our “now”. By all means learn from our past, but do not become its prisoner.

Bruno Wang, founder of the Pureland Foundation

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