Festive 21/22North East & YorkshireReview

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Northern Stage, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne

Reviewer: Mark Clegg

Writer: Laura Lindow

Director: Maria Crocker

Tradition in Northern Stage’s Christmas shows is to forgo tradition. Out go the staples of men in frocks, sing-alongs, renditions of pop songs and topical jokes – their festive offerings are not pantos, but original musical theatre productions which are still aimed at and accessible to the entire family.

This year the inspiration for the show is an 18th century poem, famously turned into a 19th century piece of music, and best remembered as the basis for a now 80 year old, dialogue-free cartoon starring the world’s most famous mouse: The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Using this slight plot as a springboard, writer Laura Lindow conjures up a story that does indeed feature a sorcerer and his apprentice and has a sequence involving magically animated mops, but is otherwise more obviously influenced by the adventures of another famous wizard-in-training, Harry Potter. However, this familiarity benefits the production by giving the audience (particularly the younger members) something semi-recognisable to hold onto, as does an extended sequence set in a boarding school which has very strong resemblances to Matilda.

Hatty Rabbit is an orphan who is prophesised to be an important player in the battle between dark and light magic, is raised by her monstrous aunt, shows early proficiency at magic, and receives a mysterious invitation to be tutored by an established sorcerer, while all the time being pursued by a malevolent wizard. So far, so Potter. However Lindow’s script manages to add enough original detail to make the plot seem different enough from that of JK Rowling’s, and the enthusiastic and talented cast of (only) seven bring enough energy and eccentricity to carry the audience along with them.

Beth Crame is a concentrated ball of energy as our hero Hatty. Engaging brilliantly with the audience from the start, Crame is able to portray youthful vim and wide-eyed naivety perfectly and is a joy to watch. She is accompanied on her journey by an animal sidekick in the form of a rat called Rats. Manipulated wonderfully by Patrick Munday, this simple puppet (by Molly Barratt-Manassen) with a single word vocabulary (apart from when he gets his own song) is a welcome addition to the cast while not really contributing to the plot. Nick Figgis brings a hilarious comic dottiness to the sorcerer Hopkin Hopkins, and Jessica Johnson as his dark counterpart Canopus Sly delivers a truly menacing villain without ever going over the top. Heather Dutton threatens to steal the entire show as the grotesque Aunt Primula Fudge, and the cast is rounded out by Alice Blundell in various roles but standing out as a cartoonishly evil teacher, and Talia Nyathi as Hatty’s friend Evie.

Maria Crocker’s direction manages to use all of the large Northern Stage stage, keeping the seven performers constantly on the move and being continuously visually interesting. Jai Marjaria’s lighting design is superb in its intricacies and attention to detail, Matthew Tuckey’s sound design is equally well thought out, and Amanda Mascarenhas’s mainly fixed set is kept interesting with imaginative use of additional props and trucks. Will Houstoun provides the illusions which are on the whole disappointingly low-key, with many being those easily bought in a joke shop. For a plot so centred on magic, the show lacks any real magical spectacle. Katie Doherty’s original songs are pleasant if unmemorable, and tend to slow the show down instead of propelling it forward.

This is a professionally produced piece which has some very strong ingredients. Unfortunately the final result doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts. The story is unfocussed and uneven, with some strong initial scenes and funny business making way for a slow and plot-heavy second half that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Concepts and ideas are introduced in the script and then are abandoned, while the central plot is woolly with unclear character motivations. On press night this resulted in a lot of fidgety little ones in the audience, and ironically the most popular and memorable parts of the show are those that are the most panto-like.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is slick and magical, but with pretentions beyond what is required, doesn’t quite deliver a satisfyingly festive treat. Frankly it would benefit from a few more fart jokes.

Runs until 31st December 2021

The Reviews Hub Score

Mildly Magical

The Reviews Hub - Yorkshire & North East

The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Mark Clegg. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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2 Comments

  1. “Doesn’t quite deliver” seems somewhat harsh! My boys, almost 10 & 7 absolutely loved it and wanted to see it again! They loved Rats (& the talented guy in charge of him!) Important messages about friendship and believing in yourself. We all thoroughly enjoyed the adventure from start to finish! Amazing lighting and stage production with engaging, fantastic performances particularly from Hattie Rabbit and the professor! 5 Stars from us!

  2. I agree with Sam. I went with my 7 year old grandson and he loved it, was entertained all the way through. good performances all round! Would go again

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