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Review: The Sorcerer's Apprentice (online)

A new musical is conjured in the midst of the pandemic

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
The cast of The Sorcerer's Apprentice
(© Geraint Lewis)

It's a moment to pause and celebrate – seeing a new musical brought to life in the midst of a pandemic through sheer commitment to the art of live performance.

There's a lot to be excited about too in The Sorcerer's Apprentice – filmed at Southwark Playhouse when plans for its run to live-audiences were brought to an abrupt halt by Covid restrictions.

Book writer Richard Hough has given Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's classic ballad (which Disney reworked into a very memorable boomstick-stuffed scene in Fantasia) a genuinely fresh revivification by making it a parable about the dangers of industrialisation in the midst of a climate emergency. Exctinction Rebellion's Apprentice, perhaps.

Set in the mystical land of Midgard, the piece sees the ethereal light of the aurora captured and transformed for profit, thanks to the dastardly machinations of the Lyddeker family. You know where the story is headed – when you tamper with and attempt to commodify nature, nature normally doesn't sit idly by.

The two-act show is a spirited 130-minute piece, aided by amiable turns all round – David Thaxton in particular shines as the put-upon Midgard-dwelling father and master of the mystic arts Johan Gottel. Mary Moore, making her stage debut, plays Gottel's daughter, eco-activist/anarchist and magic enthusiast Eva with a verve that translates nicely to screen.

The musical casts its spell with varying success. Moments of puppetry delight (courtesy of puppetry designer Maia Kirkman-Richards and puppetry director Scarlet Wilderink), while Thaxton and Moore's father-daughter relationship – jocular, almost combative – makes for a refreshing novelty. Ben Morales Frost's tunes, dainty for the most part, give Midgard's various residents their moment in the spotlight.

Hough's concept is strong, but the execution less so – lines like "it's the refinery, it's always the refinery!" paint some scenes with broader brush-strokes than the dancing brooms. The book feels somewhat overlong – what could be a breezy magical musical caper (essential for younger viewers) gets bogged down in side characters rather than focussing on the urgently pressing issues on display.

Its enchanting qualities may burn brighter when it is given the chance to play to live audiences (something it definitely deserves when the lights come back on) – and Southwark Playhouse would have a strong hit on its hands if it chose to revive the show. Marc Pickering, as the bumblingly opportunistic Fabian Lyddeker, would bring the house down with ripples of laughter if given the chance.

"God only knows how we've lasted this long", one of the characters muses. They're not wrong – it's hard not to pine for the return of live performances after watching this.

One day, hopefully, The Sorcerer's Apprentice will get the chuckles and live applause it deserves. You have to congratulate all of those involved for making sure new shows will be joining us for the ride when the lights are switched back on.

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