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BWW Review: THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE at Southwark Playhouse

Filmed at Southwark Playhouse and now streaming online, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice updates and elaborates a classic poem to create a family-friendly musical.

BWW Review: THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE  at Southwark Playhouse

BWW Review: THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE  at Southwark Playhouse After an unexpected delay due to Covid-19 and a change of plan that saw it go from a live show to a streamed one, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is finally making its premiere.

Filmed earlier this month at Southwark Playhouse, this new musical is the brainchild of acclaimed theatre writers Richard Hough (book and lyrics) and Ben Morales Frost (music), with direction by Charlotte Westenra. Based on a poem by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the show updates and extends the late-18th century German original and turns it into a gender-swapped family-friendly musical.

Set in the small town of Midgard (which is located near the Northern Lights), the story centres around sorcerer Johan Gottel (David Thaxton, an Olivier Award-winner for Passion at the Donmar) and his daughter Eva (Mary Moore), who is honing her own magical powers. The pair are fighting to protect the aurora borealis (referred to as Aurora in the show), which is being destroyed by the Lydekker family's factory, as they harness it to light homes in the town.

This isn't the first time that Goethe's poem has been turned into another medium. It was also the inspiration for an iconic orchestration in Disney's Fantasia, where Mickey Mouse casts a magic spell over brooms, only for them rebel and cause chaos. This memorable movie moment has a loving homage in The Sorcerer's Apprentice, with exquisitely detailed puppetry (by puppetry director Scarlet Wilderink and puppetry designer Maia Kirkman-Richards) working in harmonious tandem with Steven Harris's choreography. They've not only created a fun dance number with broom puppets, but also a large and expressive face for Aurora, which is visually stunning to behold.

Despite its 18th-century source, The Sorcerer's Apprentice is a modern musical with several contemporary plotlines woven in: Johan is trying to educate his peers on climate change, there's a fractious North/South divide, and crumbling family relationships in need of repair.

There are a few too many narratives going on, and with a running time of over two hours, it's hard to fully invest in every subplot. The romance between Eva and Erik Sondersson (Yazdan Qafouri) palls a bit: although Moore and Qafouri make a likeable pair, the character of Sondersson isn't developed enough for fully involvement in their relationship.

The complicated dynamic between a parent and child at differing stages of growing up is cleverly explored through the roles of Johan and his teenage daughter Eva and Lamia Lydekker (Dawn Hope) and her adult son, Fabian (Marc Pickering). Thaxton's operatic tones perfectly fit the fatherly role, and his solo number "Echoes In The Dark" (when Johan confesses that his daughter's likeness to his late wife is tormenting him) provides a heart-breaking moment and is staged with snow falling around him.

Other memorable passages involve Pickering, who finds comedy in the villainous Fabian Lydekker whose factory is causing environmental chaos. Pickering's exaggerated performance creates an eccentrically evil character who is nonetheless naïve and child-like.

The crumbling family dynamics create an engaging narrative arc and generate the most emotionally charged passages. The volatile relationship between Thaxton and Moore's characters is gripping to watch, with intense performances from the pair as they clash and unite.

That said, the resolution for this carefully crafted disharmony feels slightly rushed, and the journey loses momentum as a result. And while the topics feel current, the musical numbers are reminiscent of older styles. Numbers like "Nature Will Provide" and "Mother Knows Best" have a charming Disney-like quality about them, and while there are a few weak songs, the score consists of predominately catchy harmonies, bewitching group numbers and grand ballads.

This magical musical conjures up heart, humour and enchanting performances which will captivate the entire family.

The Sorcerer's Apprentice is available on stream.theatre until 14 March

Photo credit: Geraint Lewis


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