Tag Archives: Tom Bales

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 Boy Friend

The Boy Friend

★★★★

Menier Chocolate Factory

The Boy Friend

The Boy Friend

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 4th December 2019

★★★★

 

“The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact”

 

Set on the French Riviera in the 1920s, The Boy Friend was an instant hit on the London stage when it premiered in 1953. It is an affectionate, sun-drenched, period pastiche, and terribly terribly English. The book follows a tried and tested romantic comedy formula: runaway rich boy meets rich girl pretending not to be, they fall in love, overcome a tiny obstacle, and end up in one another’s arms. There is an older comedy couple – man with a roving eye and battleaxe wife – who overcome their differences and fall in love a second time; an older romantic couple, whose love, too, is rekindled, and three satellite young girls, all of whom wind up with their beaux at the show’s close. So far so hackneyed. But you don’t come to The Boy Friend for the plot.

The pleasure of this joyous revival stems in no small part from its truly gorgeous visual impact. Paul Farnsworth’s set is a delicate filigree, bringing to mind bandstands and the balmy air of long summer evenings. Paul Anderson’s stunning lighting design complements each setting and mood perfectly, with a beautiful, bold palette that makes the heart soar. The costumes too are divine, in particular those of the marvellously chic Madame Dubonnet, although the male outfits in the final carnival scene do let the side down a little. The sequins seem somewhat tawdry when set next to the pierrots and Maisie’s whimsical butterfly.

It is very easy to imagine this production on a West End stage, and it seems highly likely that it will transfer, but it was a delight to see it up close in the Menier Chocolate Factory, and to hear it up close too. The orchestra, directed by Simon Beck, was a triumph, and performed Sandy Wilson’s score with the brio and tenderness it deserves. And the dancing… The dancing was out of this world. Sharp, snappy, sexy, infectious, fabulous. Terrific choreography from Bill Deamer and a knockout dance performance from Gabrielle Lewis-Dodson, as Maisie, in particular. This production is well cast, and all the principals shine. Amara Okereke is a perfect Polly – all innocence and charm – and has a radiant soprano which is blissful to listen to; Dylan Mason’s Tony is earnest and gauche, and there is delightful on-stage chemistry between them. Janie Dee brings some star quality to the delicious, flirtatious Madame Dubonnet; Tiffany Graves is full of fun and mischief as Hortense and Adrian Edmonson gives a peerless comic turn as Lord Brockhurst.

There are a few wrinkles in the fabric – Act III loses pace, mainly owing to the superfluous tango routine, and the shrillness of Polly’s three friends is overdone – but, in essence, The Boy Friend falls around you with the caress of a fine silk kimono and you can head off into the cold December night with the warmth of the Riviera in your step.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Manuel Harlan

 


The Boy Friend

Menier Chocolate Factory until 7th March

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | December 2018
The Bay At Nice | ★★½ | March 2019
Orpheus Descending  | ★★★★ | May 2019
The Watsons | ★★★★ | October 2019

 

Click here to see our most recent reviews