Review - Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia at The Vaults

Tom Millward
Tom Millward

Following the unprecedented critical successes of Walt Disney’s first animated classics Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Pinocchio, many regarded his next venture – a collection of largely unrelated animated segments accompanying classical music – as a huge risk. Of course, we’re talking about Walt’s 1940 masterpiece Fantasia, the first commercial film to be presented in stereophonic sound.

In a similar, yet admittedly smaller fashion, Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia could also be regarded as somewhat of a risk for producer Kieron Vanstone. How do you stage the seemingly unstageable? The result, currently running at The Vaults at Waterloo, is a valiant and imaginative attempt at taking the essence of the 1940 classic and creating a unique, individual and immersive experience from it with the aid of impressive binaural technology. A word of warning though – although the Disney logo is featured prominently on the poster, those hoping that Walt’s classic animation would be imaginatively integrated into the production itself, will be sadly left wanting. Die-hard fans of animation may want to sit this one out, but if you’re a fan of theatrical innovation, art and contemporary or interpretive dance, then this may well be a rewarding night out for you.

So, how does it work? Each audience member is given their own personal set of headphones and a small Fantasia-themed map. With the exception of the first and final scenes, you are free to wander the corridors and rooms of The Vaults at your own pace and experience each installation in any order you please. Each piece is elaborately inspired by the various animated sequences of the movie and as you enter each room, the classical music of those sequences automatically begins to play on your headset. Tchaikovsky’s various dances of “The Nutcracker Suite” accompany the green room, overflowing with luminous flowers, mushrooms and water features, Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” is your companion through a volcanic wasteland, and Ponchielli’s “Dance of the Hours” provides the soundtrack to a four-person ballet, depicting ostrich Madame Upanova, graceful Hyacinth Hippo, a snappy Ben Ali Gator and a sturdy elephant, in a delightful mixture of comedy and aerial acrobatics. And a special mention goes to the four-person interpretive dance inspired by Fantasia’s most iconic scene “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (immortalised on film by Mickey Mouse). With the absence of that scene’s irreplaceable star, Sounds and Sorcery has created a modern and yet timeless tribute of the overwhelmed apprentice and unrelenting brooms… Just be prepared to get a soaking yourself, if you sit too close to the action!

There is a wealth of hidden gems and attention to detail in Kitty Callister’s set designs for those overly familiar with the source material to joyously discover. Jake Wiltshire’s lighting design evocatively sets the tone for each experience and is wondrously synched with the music and credit goes to director Daisy Evans in pulling together an evening which, by design, can seem bafflingly disjointed and sensually stunning… just like Disney’s Fantasia itself.

(Photo by Lawrence Howe)

Sounds and Sorcery celebrating Disney Fantasia is at The Vaults until 30th September. 

Originally published on

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