Review: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Southwark Playhouse (online)

New British musical The Sorcerer’s Apprentice was due to premiere at London’s Southwark Playhouse at the start of this year, but the run had to be cancelled following the announcement of the most recent lockdown. Thankfully the show has been filmed and is now available to watch online at stream.theatre.

With a book and lyrics from Richard Hough and music by Ben Morales Frost, the musical is a gender-swapped twist on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s 1797 poem of the same name, which inspired the Dukas Symphony that featured in Disney’s Fantasia. Set against the backdrop of the Northern Lights, the town of Migdard is on the brink of collapse thanks to the Lyddeker enterprise which is draining the aurora of much-needed light. It’s up to magician Johan Gottel (David Thaxton) and his daughter Eva (Mary Moore) to put aside their differences and reconnect as they try and save Midgard from destruction. 

Though von Goethe’s original poem was quite short it has been transformed into a musical two hours long. There are moments where the action drags a little, and certainly it takes time to get going, while some scenes are too dialogue heavy and may lose a younger audience at certain moments. And there are one or two plot points which fall a little flat, for example a fleeting love interest which seemingly comes from nowhere. But after a slow start when the show does get going there are some magical moments with thanks to Charlotte Westenra’s seamless direction. Magic Consultant Scott Penrose’s additions create moments of wonder sure to impress viewers young and old, while the puppetry (designed by Maia Kirkman-Richards and directed by Scarlet Wilderink), is incredible, notably the imposing spirit of the aurora. Anna Kelsey has created a versatile set which switches seamlessly between the Gottel’s house and Lyddeker factory, and Clancy Flynn’s lighting design is spectacular, certainly capturing the warmth of the aurora.

The songs are all pleasant enough, but there’s no real standout number that stays with you long after the show has finished. Some of the stronger songs include Brand New Me, Mother Knows Best and Let There Be Light while Spellbound, coupled with the magic happening within the scene, also impresses. They’re brought to life by an impressive cast who fill the stage with their energy and enthusiasm. Mary Moore makes a strong debut as Eva and has a fine voice to match her acting skills. It’s also refreshing to see such a strong female character in a fairy tale. David Thaxton is likewise commanding and certainly convinces as a man who’s still grieving the death of his wife. Yazdan Qafouri is endearing as Eric, while Nicola Blackman oozes warmth as Mrs Arno, amusing with her dry wit. The humour of the piece also comes from the Lyddeker’s and both Dawn Hope and Marc Pickering are brilliant as Lamia and Fabian, bringing some pantomime-esque villainy to the piece and entertaining throughout. 

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice certainly has an interesting story to tell, and the tale of a father struggling to bond with his daughter following his wife’s death is particularly poignant, Likewise I particularly liked the subtle hints to the damage climate change can do to the world. It’s certainly uplifting to see a new musical launch during these uncertain times, and this particular show has a lot of potential. With a strong cast and some innovative production ideas that highlight the magic of theatre, this is an imaginative production and with a little more work could be a brilliant musical. 

Rating: 3 out of 5.

‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’ streams from Friday 26 February – Sunday 14 March 2021. To book tickets visit www.stream.theatre

Photo credit:  Geraint Lewis

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