Review of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice filmed at Southwark Playhouse

Front row: Vicki Lee Taylor, Marc Pickering (Fabian Lydekker), Kayleigh Thadani. Back row: Ryan Pidgen and Tom Bales. Back left: David Thaxton (Johan Gottel).
Front row: Vicki Lee Taylor, Marc Pickering (Fabian Lydekker), Kayleigh Thadani. Back row: Ryan Pidgen and Tom Bales. Back left: David Thaxton (Johan Gottel).

Most people know of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice from the segment in the Disney movie “Fantasia” where Mickey Mouse as the eponymous hero has big trouble with brooms and buckets of water when he tries to emulate his master. However, its genesis is from a 1797 poem from German writer J W Goethe and that’s the starting point for a brand-new musical from Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost.

This version set in a mystical and magical place called Midgard, tells the story of the town’s magician (sorcerer) Johan Gottel (played by David Thaxton) and his feisty teenage daughter Eva (Mary Moore) – a gender role reversal in this version of Goethe’s tale. Eva is full of teenage angst whose Mother died when she was a baby so takes out all of her anger on her father. She’s also a Greta Thunberg like character who’s worried about climate change and how it’s affecting the Aurora – the energy source for the town. Her father who combines his magic with a bit of doctoring on the side, is a bit of a Cassandra warning everyone that the local refinery run by the dastardly money-grabbing Lyddekers is sucking the energy out of the Aurora and the town will die unless they’re stopped. Along the way there are bits of magic, menacing, dancing brooms and the Aurora made real with some excellent puppetry from the ensemble of four.

There’s a nice balance between the upright family (father and daughter) dynamic of the Gottels and the more comedic Lydekkers (mother and son) which brings some light and shade to the piece. Mark Pickering as Fabien Lydekker is wonderful as ever although it would have nice to see a bit more of him. He works well with his Mother, Lamia played by Dawn Hope. The other two principles are Nicola Blackman who doubles-up as the innkeeper and the local magistrate and Yazdan Qafouri as the wishy-washy Erik, a part that is so underwritten that he doesn’t really add anything to the story. The singing of all six is superb and they bring life and vibrancy to Hough and Frost’s songs. Mary Moore making her professional debut is certainly someone to watch out for in the future.

The direction from Charlotte Westenra is sharp and focused and she’s well supported by Alan Williams’s musical direction, Steven Harris’s choreography and the excellent puppetry design from Maia Kirkman-Richards.

The big problem with the show is that it doesn’t seem to know who it’s aimed at. It would make a superb piece for young adolescents as Eva is at the centre of everything that’s good about it and those between 11 and 18 could really empathise with her. However, at over two hours in length, it’s about twenty minutes too long for that age group who are most used to watching short bursts on YouTube and Tik Tok and may not have the attention span for such a long piece. It would also focus the narrative as once or twice I literally “lost the plot” as it meandered along trying to put a quart in a pint pot targeting climate change, capitalism, parent-child relationships and growing pains as well as entertain the audience.

However, well done to everyone concerned in putting this on during the pandemic; I’m sure this was meant to open at Southwark Playhouse in front of an audience. The filming is superb, and a lot of work must have gone into the staging and the recording. If there’s anything good that has come out of the current situation is that this show can now be watched by people all around the world and by those who due to disability couldn’t get to the theatre and are now able to watch from home. This could be the future of theatre with both live and on-line audiences able to enjoy excellent productions such as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

3 stars

Review by Alan Fitter

‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’, by Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost, directed by Charlotte Westenra (‘The Wicker Husband’, Watermill) explores the extraordinary world of a sorcerer and his rebellious daughter, as she discovers the explosive possibilities of her newfound magical powers.

Against the backdrop of the Northern Lights, a small town has been pushed to the brink of collapse in a bid for progress and prosperity. To rescue Midgard from certain destruction, father and daughter must heal their relationship and work together. This gripping family-friendly story sees brooms coming to life and love blossoming anew.

Acclaimed musical theatre writers Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost have created this gender-swapped twist on the timeless poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, which also inspired the Dukas symphony that memorably featured in the Disney film ‘Fantasia’.

The birth of this magical new musical has been a five-year journey for producer James Seabright.

Nicola Blackman (‘Destry Rides Again’, Donmar Warehouse – Olivier nomination, Best Supporting Actress)
Dawn Hope (‘Follies’, National Theatre, West End shows include ‘The Scottsboro Boys’ and ‘Porgy And Bess’)
Mary Moore a recent graduate making her professional stage debut
Marc Pickering (Cat in the Hat in ‘Seussical’, Southwark Playhouse; Enoch Thompson in HBO’s ‘Boardwalk Empire’)
Yazdan Qafouri (‘The Band’, West End and UK tour, ‘The Wicker Husband’, Watermill Theatre)
David Thaxton (Olivier Award winner for ‘Passion’, Donmar Warehouse; Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre; The Phantom in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, West End)

Ensemble: Tom Bales, Ryan Pidgen, Vicki Lee Taylor, Kayleigh Thadani

Creative Team:
Writer Richard Hough
Composer & Orchestrator Ben Morales Frost
Director Charlotte Westenra
Musical Director Alan Williams
Choreographer Steven Harris
Puppetry Director Scarlet Wilderink
Set and Costume Designer Anna Kelsey
Lighting Designer Clancy Flynn
Sound Designer Ella Wahlstrom
Puppetry Designer Maia Kirkman-Richards
Magic Consultant Scott Penrose
Associate Producer King’s Head Theatre

James Seabright presents
‘The Sorcerer’s Apprentice’
a new musical by Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost
directed by Charlotte Westenra
Streaming dates – Fri 26 Feb – Sun 14 Mar 2021