'The Sorcerer's Apprentice' is a few ingredients short of spellbinding
“Magic, the means to impress the people around you” is continually sung by the title character in The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and it’s easy to see why. Inspired by J. W. Goethe’s fantastical 18th century poem, which subsequently influenced Dukas’s orchestral piece, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice sees Eva, a sorcerer’s daughter, use her newly discovered powers to impress others and change the world.
Due to have had its premiere at Southwark Playhouse earlier this year, the production is now taking place online, courtesy of a three-week stream. But, a musical like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, with all its camera angles, song styles, and narrative devices in a magic potion, the end concoction is a sweet, syrupy affair that’s a few ingredients short of spellbinding.
Even with the staticness of company members often standing two metres apart, camera angles allow director Charlotte Westenra’s intent to shine through, transporting audiences to Midgard. Eva’s Disney-style wish song “Invisible” saw Mary Moore take her moment in the spotlight amidst a feud with the character's father, Johan, played by David Thaxton. Thaxton also gives a beautiful rendition of “Echoes in the Dark,” rivalling the wintry scenes in Frozen.
Moore delivers a solid debut as Eva Gottel, the young female protagonist trying to harness her powers for good. Sometimes, it’s as if her musical talent is held back by the material, which at times can feel trite, but she does act charmingly alongside Yazdan Qafouri as Eric, scientist-come-love interest.
It doesn’t take a wizard with powers like Merlin to work out where the storyline is going. But for a show that’s set in Scandinavia, the Northern Lights are turned blue. Words like “gobshite” didn’t feel appropriate for a Scandi teenager, and only the poorer characters speaking in a northern accent made this musical feel more like an episode of Peaky Blinders than whisking us to the Arctic Circle.
Music and lyrics by Ben Morales Frost and Richard Hough respectively do a great job at capturing the whimsical mood needed, even if there’s motifs reminiscent of Disney’s Tangled. In particular, I enjoyed “Let There Be Light” sung by Marc Pickering as the villain Fabian Lydekker, which could be inserted as a Lumiere solo in Beauty and the Beast.
Clearly, Disney’s Fantasia was a key inspiration for bringing The Sorcerer’s Apprentice to life. A solo broomstick became a gaggle of brooms, used for Steven Harris’s intricate choreography and did a good job at breaking up script-heavy scenes. These brooms ultimately became the stand-out moment, transforming into a face so fear-inducing, I audibly gasped multiple times.
From lighting the fireplace, insinuating the magic in fingertips to conveying the Northern Lights, Clancy Flynn’s lighting design zinged in all the right places. Feeling the right level of intimate, the final beat of the show sees Eva click with a shoot of her powers coming out; a final, confident nod orchestrated through lighting.
Occasionally, scenes cut into each other at the wrong moment, feeling like a conversation ends mid-sentence. Perhaps this is just a pitfall of filming theatre, rather than seeing a show in-person, but at times I needed that magic rewind button to remember where I’d left off.
In a time where relationships have been constrained by the pandemic, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice highlights the importance of family. Occasionally, these family arguments go on for too long; a two hour running time could have been cut down significantly. But, there’s moments of theatre magic in the air, a feeling I’ve craved for so long. Shows like this are the elixir of theatre life though, proving the potential in new British musical, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is well deserving of an in-person run.
Photo credit: Dawn Hope, David Thaxton, Mary Moore, Marc Pickering,, Yazdan Qafouri and Nicola Blackman in The Sorcerer's Apprentice (Photo by Geraint Lewis)