Tag Archives: Charlotte Westenra

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

★★★

Online via stream.theatre

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Online via stream.theatre

Reviewed – 25th February 2021

★★★

 

“With enough spectacle, big chorus numbers and powerful performances, this show could be a contender”

 

The latest offering by the Southwark Playhouse is a musical adaptation of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, based on Goethe’s famous poem. It’s a story probably better known to audiences as a cartoon version starring Mickey Mouse in Disney’s Fantasia, where the young Mickey attempts to emulate his sorcerer boss by casting a magic spell, and rapidly gets in over his head. Dancing broomsticks and magical mayhem on screen are accompanied by composer Paul Dukas’ memorable score. Goethe’s poem, on the other hand, focuses firmly on more troublesome themes, such as lying, and pretending to be something you are not, and how good intentions will not save you from the consequences of your own arrogance and ignorance. In the Southwark Playhouse version, with book and lyrics by Richard Hough, and music by Ben Morales Frost, an attempt is made to update the story by making the young apprentice a daughter desperate for her magician father’s approval. She isn’t arrogant, but with a typical teenager’s desire for independence, decides to flex her magical muscles before she’s quite ready. And to be fair, she has an overprotective father who tries to push her in directions she knows won’t work for her. The story is placed firmly in the north (with northern English accents) but rather bewilderingly, the location is referred to as Midgard. Before you get excited, I have to warn you there isn’t a Norse god in sight.

Perhaps the biggest problem with Hough and Frost’s version of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is that it tries too hard to be all things to everyone. It’s an unlikely mash up of magic versus science, northern belt and braces versus southern decadence, and capitalist exploitation of the working class. Add to that an environmental theme of human exploitation of natural resources, personified in the Aurora or Northern Lights that is somehow channeling its power through the magician and his child. In short, you have a plot that goes something like Ibsen’s Enemy of the People meets Mary Poppins. Goethe, this is not, even if there is a lively chorus of dancing broomsticks.

Nevertheless, this is a musical that has audience appeal. The diverse cast is charming, with particularly strong performances from Mary Moore as Eva, the Magician’s daughter, and David Thaxton, as her father, Johan. There is a heartwarming connection between these two on stage which is lovely to see, and it helps cement the drama that evolves as the two battle the evil capitalist forces of Fabian Lyddeker (Marc Pickering) and his strongwilled mother Lamia (Dawn Hope). Thaxton in particular, brings a nice intensity to his role of a man trying to keep his daughter safe from the powers that threaten to overwhelm them both. The strengths of this musical lie in the music and lyrics, and director Charlotte Westenra stages the action in such a way that gives the singers and dancers plenty of space (in a limited space) to shine. The musicians, under the direction of Alan Williams, do a great job with the score, and don’t overpower the voices. There are plenty of comic moments for the minor characters, and Yazdan Qafouri as Eva’s lovestruck young scientist suitor, plays his part with a sweet vulnerability that is sure to win fans. The costume and set design (Anna Kelsey) miss what few opportunities there are to be spectacular, but this is a musical staged on a small stage—not ideal for a show that involves the majesty of celestial phenomena and the pyrotechnics of exploding refineries.

This version of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice really belongs on a West End stage. With enough spectacle, big chorus numbers and powerful performances, this show could be a contender. But the plot needs work. Bring back Goethe’s tough mindedness. It won’t hurt The Sorcerer’s Apprentice a bit, and it would be great to get away from the sentimentality of the Disney adaptation. Why not think Wicked meets—just about any musical with complex, morally conflicted leading characters? In a world hurtling towards climate catastrophe and battling toxic capitalism, this could be a winner.

 

Reviewed by Dominica Plummer

Photography by Geraint Lewis

 


The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Online via stream.theatre

 

Recently reviewed by Dominica:
Bird | ★★ | Cockpit Theatre | September 2020
Bread And Circuses | ★★½ | Online | September 2020
Minutes To Midnight | ★★★★ | Online | September 2020
Persephone’s Dream | ★★★ | Online | September 2020
The Trilobite | ★★★★ | Online | September 2020
Paradise Lost | ★★★★ | Cockpit Theatre | September 2020
The Legend of Moby Dick Whittington | ★★★★★ | Online | November 2020
Potted Panto | ★★★ | Garrick Theatre | December 2020
Magnetic North | ★★★★ | Online | December 2020
Public Domain | ★★★★ | Online | January 2021

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews

 

The Wicker Husband

The Wicker Husband

★★★★★

Watermill Theatre

The Wicker Husband

The Wicker Husband

Watermill Theatre

Reviewed – 16th March 2020

★★★★★

 

“a performance of enormous range and sparkling energy”

 

There’s something remarkable happening at the picturesque Watermill Theatre in Newbury. On the night that London theatres closed and coronavirus gloom descended upon the nation, I was privileged to be part of an evening of pure enchantment, as a musical over eight years in the making made its debut on this most creative of stages.

First, forget whatever other associations the title The Wicker Husband may conjure. This has nothing to do with the film The Wicker Man. Second, prepare to be transported into a bright and delightful mythic world that is based on a short story by Ursula Wills-Jones and wonderfully adapted for the stage by Rhys Jennings (book) and Darren Clark (music and lyrics).

This sweet and affecting story is profoundly moral in an entirely natural way. It is a very English tale of the trees and water that somehow seems to draw both on Yorkshire mystery plays and American musical theatre. It asks the questions that social media so often gets wrong. Where does beauty really reside? And what’s it like to be an outsider, shunned by all the pretty people?

A multi-talented company of 12 are joined on the Watermill’s tiny stage by a number of wicker puppets made and operated in the exposed Japanese ‘bunraku’ style (think Warhorse). These extraordinary and beautiful creations by Finn Caldwell and team are brought to life by Eilon Morris, Yazdan Qafouri and Scarlet Wilderink. Qafouri (a winner of BBC One’s Let It Shine) has one of the many fine voices in this show. He is more than matched by Laura Johnson as the Ugly Girl, for whom the wicker husband is created. Here is a performance of enormous range and sparkling energy.

Julian Forsyth has a pivotal role as the Old Basketmaker whose weaving gives new life to the willow withies, sea grass and blackthorn. He has an impressive stage presence and a fine singing voice. Other members of this cracking and committed cast are Jack Beale, Angela Caesar (who as well as being an actor is also an opera singer and one of three fine violinists in the show), Claire-Marie Hall, Stephen Leask and Zoë Rainey.

The show interweaves puppetry with some two dozen catchy ballads, several dance routines (Steven Harris) and any number of opportunities for the cast’s instrumental skills to shine, with some highly effective lighting by Hartley TA Kemp, clean and effective design by Anna Kelsey and inspired direction by Charlotte Westenra.

As the programme describes, this production is the result of several dedicated years of workshops, competitions and mentoring. It is a fine testimony to the enormous creativity of the British stage and a highly recommended antidote to much else that besets us now.

 

Reviewed by David Woodward

Photography by Johan Persson

 

The Wicker Husband

Watermill Theatre until 4th April

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Murder For Two | ★★★★ | February 2019
Macbeth | ★★★ | March 2019
Amélie | ★★★★★ | April 2019
The Importance Of Being Earnest | ★★★★ | May 2019
Assassins | ★★★★★ | September 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews