Tuesday, 2 March 2021

REVIEW: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice at the Southwark Playhouse (Online)

The title Sorcerer’s Apprentice evokes strong memories for me of the sequence with Mickey Mouse surrounded by dancing brooms and buckets in the 1940’s animated masterpiece Fantasia which I saw as a child (some years after its release!). Richard Hough has taken the same source, the 1797 poem by Johann Von Goethe as the inspiration for this new musical which he has written with music by Ben Morales Frost. While it is now set in Midgard in the Frozen North in the nineteenth century it has a very modern feel with its themes about Global Warming’s impact on the Earth. The resulting 2-hour musical is a cross between Nanny McPhee and His Dark Materials with the parent-child relationships at the centre of this typical folk story with an ethical message and a central character Eva Gottel in a Greta Thunberg style role as the teenage activist trying to change behaviours. 

Indeed, Mary Moore in her professional debut role holds the production together and drives the storyline from her first appearance in a loft bedroom with “Invisible” bemoaning that they treat her as invisible while seeking attention through disruptive behaviour at school, only to be told that direct action is at odds with the philosophy of this house! She has a sweet charming innocent demeanour that masks her desire to be noticed by her father and society but perhaps explains her falling for Erik Sanderson, a scientist a few years older than her, played by Yazdan Qafori. Their song together “Spellbound” about channelling the power of the Northern Lights Aurora through an open mind (which has been released as a music video and single) not only embraces the theme of the enhancing of magical powers with science but also provides the opportunity for some on-stage magic.

The curious Fabian Lyddeker played by Marc Pickering like a character out of the Young One's Tv series is the villain of the piece. A greedy upper-class industrialist sucking the power from Aurora to light the town without a care for the world but oddly still living at home with his mother Lamia (Dawn Hope) and his Nanny (Vicki Lee Taylor) and being treated like a young child. It is played for laughs as in the song “Mother knows Best”. This routes the production as something targeted at a younger family audience rather than a hard-hitting warning to the older generation. 

The older magician of the original poem becomes Johen Gottell, played by David Thaxton. He is a bit of an outcast, struggling to understand his daughter but occasionally relied on by the village for his magic powers but we see a greater range of emotions from him as he rages against Eva before singing the gentle sad song “Echoes in the dark”. There is good support from the rest of the cast as factory workers, servants, and villagers and there is an unexpected twist towards the end.

The music is pleasant, simply orchestrated and focuses on storytelling but there are no real memorable numbers and some of the lyrics jar a bit but overall, it is a melodic likeable soundtrack. The set is a simple use of the Southwark Playhouse space with a back wall that serves as the Gottel’s home, and the Lydekkers home and factory and is lit generally in a cold blue light. The Northern Lights themselves are evoked with cast members and fibre optic strands which look effective but could have been enhanced by a stronger variation in the surrounding lights. The magical dance sequences when the brooms come alive has the dancers holding brooms with faces in a routine that was a cross between a Northern clog dance and the “Step inside” routine from Mary Poppins. It works and the arrival of the face spirit of the Aurora is very well done showing off the combination of the choreography of Steven Harris and the puppetry of Maia Kirkman- Richards. 

The stream works well and is a very good multi-camera capture and edit by Matt Tiverton which presents the work well and would make an ideal trip for a young family when theatres reopen where the intimacy would make the magical elements feel more exciting. However, on-screen it is the professional debut of Mary Moore that stands out and she is a fresh face worth looking out for in the future. 

Review by Nick Wayne 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Online stream until 14th March | Price of Ticket: £18

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