The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Book and lyrics by Richard Hough Music by Ben Morales Frost
James Seabright Productions

Mary Moore as Eva Gottel and David Thaxton as Johan Gottel Credit: Geraint Lewis
Marc Pickering as Fabian Lydekker and Nicola Blackman as Isobel Grammaticus (centre) flanked by Tom Bales, Kayleigh Thadani, Ryan Pidgen and Vicki Lee Taylor Credit: Geraint Lewis
Vicki Lee Taylor as Maid, Ryan Pidgen as Butler, Dawn Hope as Lamia Lydekker, Tom Bales as Butler and Kayleigh Thadanias Maid Credit: Geraint Lewis
Mary Moore as Eva Gottel and Yazdan Qafouri as Erik Sondersson Credit: Geraint Lewis
Marc Pickering as Fabian Lydekker (centre) with Vicki Lee Taylor, Tom Bales, Ryan Pidgen and Kayleigh Thadani Credit: Geraint Lewis

Inspired by poem by Goethe that led Dukas to write his lively Scherzo, Richard Hough offers the story of a magician and his daughter and gives it a feminist and environmental angle.

In the cold and distant land of Midgard, a local industrialist found a way of using the Aurora Borealis as a power source. Now Lydekker Industries, run by his widow Lamia and son Fabian, is a successful business and the town’s main employer. The family motto Caelum non sufficit (the sky is not enough) suggests their aspirations and Dawn Hope gives Lamia a self-assumed authority that defies questioning.

But questions there are: magician Johan Gottel (David Thaxton), who has a local reputation as a healer, has noticed a change in the Aurora but local magistrate Isobel Grammaticus and Fabian dismiss his warning. Fabian becomes the villain of the piece, a camply comic one in Marc Pickering’s lively performance, but he’s backed up by his employees and the townsfolk.

All is not well at home for Johan either. His daughter Eva (Mary Moore making an engaging and tuneful professional debut) feels ignored, her needs and wishes never considered. She’s picked up some skills from watching his magic but when she sets out to protest with some pro-environment graffiti and later to impress young scientist Erik (Yazdan Qafouri), things go wrong because of her incomplete knowledge.

Told with fairy-tale simplicity, this version of The Sorcerer's Apprentice sets protecting the environment against capitalist profit-making and community convenience. Charlotte Westenra’s production often has a pantomime boldness but digs much deeper when exploring the relationship of father and daughter. Mary More has a charming innocence as Eva and David Thaxton handles Johan’s relationship with her with sensitivity though unrestrained when making his case for the Aurora.

This is a camera view of a stage production and, though its intimacy may be increased by close-ups, there are losses. Johan’s first number, which at the same time establishes situation and personalities as well as giving the whole show a magical context, would be much more effective experienced in the same space: it is a reminder of what we are missing in lockdown.

A couple of songs seem a little too long (though again this may work in the theatre) but all are well sung and every opportunity is taken for a lively dance number with the Aurora itself poetically presented by choreographer Steven Harris in sparkling gyrations and with striking puppetry from Maia Kirkman-Richards and Scarlet Wilderink.

Does The Sorcerer’s Apprentice give us theatrical magic? Yes, it certainly has magical moments, but lots of laughs too. Its message may be somewhat simplistic but its heart is in the right place and that should win you over.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton