After the exciting rise of new British musical theatre came to a dreary halt last March it feels immensely hopeful to finally catch a new offering, in the form of Ben Morales Frost and Richard Hough’s “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”, as our industry slowly comes back to life. Due to have had its premiere at the Southwark Playhouse (an innovative home for new musicals) earlier this year, the production now finds itself shifted online in the form of a three-week stream.
Taking inspiration from J. W. Goethe’s 18th century poem, which went on to inspire Dukas’s orchestral piece, a section in Disney’s Fantasia and its subsequent 2010 live action adaptation, “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” in its new musical form sheds most of these skins until it is mostly unrecognisable aside from its magical dancing brooms.
This sorcerer’s apprentice is Eva, a young rebellious teenage girl with magical talent passed down from her father Johan, with whom she has a fractured relationship. The two live in a small town beneath the Northern Lights where Johan is battling to prevent a local refinery from draining energy from “Aurora” and thereby destroying it.
The production is brilliantly filmed, allowing us to experience a fully rounded production despite being in our homes and we can feel the energy and commitment of the cast though applause is lacking. All ten cast members are excellent, with standout performances from seasoned regulars Dawn Hope and David Thaxton who set a professional standard with their West End Vocals, energised newcomer Mary Moore who gives it all in the lead role and of course, a true favourite performer of mine, Marc Pickering, who shines in whatever he does but particularly as naughty, squirming villains.
With the use of clever magic tricks and some lovely lighting from Scott Penrose and Clancy Flynn, inventive and commanding puppetry from Scarlet Wilderink and Maia Kirkman-Richards, and a lovely full band directed by Alan Williams it’s easy to see how this show could have more magic as a live performance, however it is really let down by its script and even premise.
The story is a wishy washy, nail on the head allegory for climate change which, even in moments of potential humour whisked up by the wonderful Pickering, comes crashing back down into undeserved melodrama. The characters are all quite empty and unlikeable, even our plucky lead suffering a case of ‘young girl’s problems written by a man’ syndrome. I was also quite baffled by the location of the piece? We appear to be in a Scandinavian town which somehow gets transformed into a stereotypical “musical theatre North”, where every villager drags up a horrible Game of Thrones Yorkshire accent to rant about the hardships of factory life and their ‘shack’ houses. It’s all incredibly tired, there is nothing original here and in a lot of ways it’s very frustrating to see, as one of the only pieces of new musical theatre which has managed to surface this year.
The music is forgettable; and I want song in which the lyrics are mostly “I want” and a Disney villain-esque song called “Mother Knows Best” which I can’t see why wasn’t flagged as already existing in the Disney Film “Tangled” as a far better number!
It is truly commendable to see people creating work despite the odds and committing to a less than easy format of sharing new work, however, there are far better new shows for money, time and precious resources to be put into than this musical which falls flat at every turn of possible originality.
Playing until the 14th March 2021. Full details can be found at https://www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/as-live/the-sorcerers-apprentice/
Reviewer: Rita Bryce
Reviewed: 25th February 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★