As George Orwell once wrote, ‘the Northerner has “grit”, he is … democratic; the Southerner is snobbish, effeminate and lazy’. Whilst nuanced here, the comedic references to the differences between the north and the south have forever (and will inevitably) remain very apt to the English audience.
And that’s not where the contemporary feel ends. This is a musical grounded in the politics of environmental awareness and human arrogance, leading to the main plot driver: the wrongful harvesting of the Aurora Borealis. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice uses its fictional magic to spin these poignant metaphors and follows the story of two magicians, a father and daughter, who are fighting to save the Aurora and prevent the town of Midgard from slipping away into eternal darkness.
Sounds interesting and fantastical doesn’t it? Well, ironically, it is in the story that my main gripe lies. The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is set up to be adventurous, to be memorising and to be magical, when in reality the bulk of the story explores the tumultuous father-daughter relationship between Eva and Johan Gottel (Mary Moore and David Thaxton). I find this familial skew to be an odd and slightly dull choice. I also take issue with one of the most integral hinges of the plot as I don’t find Eva’s role as the promising apprentice to be convincing – to me, her character is not exceptional and, to be blunt, I find her reckless and stroppy behaviour rather unlikeable. Generally, there is something a little off with the story – a little misaligned and out of balance – but certainly not to the extent that it diminishes the overall performance.
I often believe it easier to play a bolder, brighter character as this gives you a larger façade to hide behind but, this aside, I have never before been so convinced of a theatrical persona than that of Marc Pickering aka Fabian Lydekker. My lasting impression of this show is, in a nut-shell, Pickering’s performance and Fabian’s quirky characterisation: marked by his comic banter, blasé complacency, spoilt brattish-ness and the most amusing of facial expressions. What is perhaps even more astounding however, is that Pickering’s exceptional performance does not even begin to outshine or detract from the rest of the cast members – they are all equal in their brilliance. I particularly love the frequented use of the four ensemble members (Tom Bales, Vicki Lee Taylor, Ryan Pidgen and Kayleigh Thadani) – they bring splashes of life and colour to the whole production – as well as Erik Sondersson (Yazdan Qafouri) as the romantic, southern softy.
Musically, I have mixed emotions. Mary Moore in particular has to trudge through a few over lengthy, somewhat repetitive ballads that, retrospectively, are all undistinguishable from one another. That being said, there are some memorable numbers: Echoes in the Dark, Damn You and Nature will Provide. The first two of this list are exceptional in their emotion and, in particular, the way that this emotion translates to the voice. As one would expect from an ex-Phantom, David Thaxton’s performance is immaculate and the bitter, regretful spite of Dawn Hope’s Damn You is transfixing. The depth of emotion communicated across the screen in these two numbers is unlike any streamed performance I have seen to-date – my hat really goes off to the pair of them.
Finally, a nod to the production: scenery, props and costume. To capture the essence of magic is no mean feat and it is done so well here. Each scene and their transitions are beautifully simple and full of ingenious methods to capture the magic of, for example, the northern lights. A filmed and streamed production provides close scrutiny of costume and puppetry, allowing you to see detail that you would perhaps miss when sat in the audience. Of course, I do not want this to become the norm but the expert delivery of this musical really does give it a unique finesse and richness.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is absolute proof of how far streamed theatre has come this last year and comes in just shy of a masterpiece. I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to occupy the extra time we all have at the moment than settling down to watch this show with a couple of Mrs Arno’s (Nicola Blackman) bourbons to hand – enjoy!
- Directed by Charlotte Westenra
- Book & Lyrics by Richard Hough
- Choreography by Steven Harris
- Music by Ben Morales Frost
- Cast includes: Tom Bales, Nicola Blackman, Dawn Hope, Mary Moore, Marc Pickering, Ryan Pidgen, Yazdan Qafouri, Vicki Lee Taylor, Kayleigh Thadani, David Thaxton
- Southwark Playhouse
- Until 14th March 2021
- Time: Approx. 2 hours, including a short interval