This charming musical is probably best regarded as a work in progress. Strongly cast, skilfully directed it has a frequently delightful score and, given the limitations of lockdown, the production filmed on stage at Southwark Playhouse, is very well worth watching. But it never quite makes up its mind who it is aimed at and the book needs some work on its structure. Into the Woods, for instance, managed to address both old and young who got different things from it. Here children, attracted by the old tale of the apprentice interfering and making a mess of things, will grow weary as the saga of how the town of Midgard is facing extinction while the Sorcerer and his daughter’s fraught relationship drags on.
The message is impeccable. Climate change is caused by big business exploiting the resources of the world without thought to the damage being inflicted on the environment. It is a neat twist on the old tale of the Sorcerer and his apprentice who interferes with his magic and politically bang on. Greta would approve.
Indeed had the apprentice been a Greta one might have enjoyed it more. It also lacks an eleven o clock song – David Thaxton or Dawn Hope, the shining lights of the cast, could both rise to one of those – and cries out for more resources than Southwark during lockdown can provide. It has legs however. Treated as an extraordinarily good workshop production and there is a lot to enjoy.
It might not survive the journey to bigger and better things, but it deserves to. If I were being kind, and lockdown makes one liable to be so, I would have given it four stars but three is about right, even if I think stars an appallingly blunt critical weapon.
Midgard exists because of the Aurora Borealis – the town is situated somewhere in the far north. The local Lydeker family run a factory which extracts power from it on which the community rely for heat as well as for theirjobs. But the Aurora is fading. Something is going dreadfully astray. Johan (David Thaxton) the local wizard, tries to warn the people that things need to change, while his daughter Eva (Mary Moore), who is intrigued by his magic powers, takes things a stage further and indulges in some direct action. This enrages the Lydekers, power behind the throne Lamia (Dawn Hope) and her head of production son Fabian (Marc Pickering). Add a boy for Eva to fall in love with, the arrival of previously unseen but dangerous beings created by the decline of the star, and finally the Aurora herself and the result gets rather too convoluted for its own good.
But Thaxton and Hope are in fine voice, Pickering camps it up something rotten as the obligatory nasty, and Mary Moore, making her professional debut, proves a delightful apprentice. But one gets confused by the conflicting story lines – the saving the planet tale gets muddled up with just why father and daughter are at odds. Also Hough as a lyricist likes to come up with speeches that can be sung and some of what he has penned is simply not singable. Sondheim can do it. So could Lerner. Hough, however, needs to look again as he falls at too many fences.
There is some nice magic, some inventive puppetry – the arrival of Aurora lifts things to a much needed new level – and the four strong ensemble work very hard pretending to be the numbers the show cries out for.
Watch and with any luck you will be in at the start of a journey and be able to boast about that when the hoped for “with audience-present” production is staged. One assumes Southwark will get round to that in the fullness of time and should it have the hoped for legs when it embarks on fresh fields you have more reason to boast.
Ensemble: Tom Bales, Ryan Pidegon, Vicki Lee Taylor, Kayleigh Thadani.
Director: Charlotte Westenra.
Musical Director: Alan Williams.
Choreographer: Steven Harris.
Puppetry Director: Scarlet Wilderink.
Set & Costume Designer: Anna Kelsey.
Lighting Designer: Clancy Flynn.
Sound Designer: Ella Wahlstrom.
Puppetry Designer: Maia Kirkman-Richards.
Magic Consultant: Scott Penrose.
Photograph: Geraint Lewis.
Streaming to 14 March 2021 www.stream.theatre
Runs 2hr with interval