Ray Rackham reviews new musical The Sorcerer’s Apprentice which was recorded at Southwark Playhouse and is now streaming online.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – A New Musical
Southwark Playhouse – Streaming online
Watch It Now
Against the backdrop of the Northern Lights, and exploring the dichotomy between the drive for progress and the impact of unintended consequences, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice explores how a seemingly distant father and daughter might work together to save the world and in turn heal their fractured relationship. As a new musical, there is much to applaud, but as an “audience ready” piece of theatre, the show lacks the finesse and evidences a hurried approach to streaming which is beginning to typify its Southwark Playhouse home.
The show has an evidently enthusiastic cast and an excellent band. David Thaxton’s Gottel and Dawn Hope’s Lamia Lyddeker bring some serious gravitas to the piece, and each lead a brilliant ensemble. Nicola Blackman, as always, lights up the stage with each character she portrays, be it the plummy magistrate or the well-meaning neighbour, and together with Thaxton and Hope go far in grounding the parts of the show that work with a real touch of class. As an introduction, Mary Moore’s spiky Eva is a joy to watch, and – with Thaxton – certainly has some of the best material to work with. The rest of the material, however, doesn’t match the standard of the spirited cast telling the story. A brave composing team titles a song MOTHER KNOWS BEST, when there is a far superior song in existence in the world of family-friendly musical theatre, even if Hope’s vocal performance matches Donna Murphy’s in the musical Tangled.
The show walks a precarious tightrope over the right level of earnestness, wide-eyed faith and fervour; and almost manages to pull it off. One too many moments of high drama walk hand in hand with shoe-horned comedy that doesn’t always land well. Anachronistic lyrical phrases jar in a world that otherwise is set in the kind of Lancashiresque yesteryear of Whistle Down the Wind. By the time the characters come together to fix the problem they’ve set up in Act One, Act Two seems almost like a tribute to Into The Woods. At another moment, Marc Pickering’s hilarious Fabian Lydekker is surrounded by dancing goons in a number that is reminiscent of Angela Lansbury’s star turn in Anyone Can Whistle. It all seems a little well-trodden, and as if we’ve been here before.
There are some beautiful elements of physical production, notably Anna Kelsey’s well-crafted costume design, and Scarlet Wilderink has directed a number of inventive moments of puppetry, resulting in some impressive physical theatre that is well captured on film. Collectively, the wizardry on display provides much to enjoy.
Ultimately, as a family show, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is possibly too convoluted to keep the children engaged, culminating in an overlong and unmusical “where do we go from here?” section that screams to be sung through. As Thaxton’s Gottel sings, “there’s magic in the air”, but maybe that magic might be better and more fully realised by further workshopping the piece. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice has the makings of a great new musical, it just hasn’t truly found itself.