Lucian begat Goethe begat Dukas begat Disney begat Richard Hough and Ben Morales Frost; for this new musical by the latter writing duo has history. Back as far as the 1st Century, Syrian satirist Lucian penned a tale which was arguably the inspiration for Goethe’s 18th Century poem The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where a workshy magician’s pupil causes havoc after enchanting a broom to fetch water, only to find he doesn’t have the skill to stop the spell. A century later composer Paul Dukas wrote a symphonic poem based on the story, then half a century more Walt Disney combined both Goethe and Dukas in Fantasia, with Mickey Mouse cast as the hapless apprentice. From such creative ancestors, Hough and Morales Frost have spun the first full length musical.
The very moment I'm able to buy a ticket to see this production in person, you’ll find me at the front of that queue, with an extra star in hand
Our authors thankfully diverge a bit from the original – as two hours of one character playing with brooms could be a bit of a slog – and here’s where it gets a bit interesting. Our eponymous heroine is Eva (Mary Moore in her debut role), daughter of local magician-cum-healer, Johan Gottel (David Thaxton). They live in Midgard, a steam-punk kind of town located somewhere in the Arctic Circle. The area’s main employer (and therefore always the villain) is Fabian Lyddeker (Marc Pickering), whose business involves harvesting the Aurora Borealis to supply light for townsfolk. Erik Sondersson (Yazdan Qafouri) provides a convenient love-interest for Eva while staying at Mrs Arno’s Inn (Nicola Blackman). Matriarch Lamia Lyddeker (Dawn Hope) presides grandly over everything, holding the generational secrets that inevitably unfold as the story plays out. The origins of this pantoesque backstory are tantalisingly eluded to in the programme via an excerpt from the First Book of the Frozen North, translated by our musical’s writer, Richard Hough – but try as I might, I could find no further info.
Songs come thick and fast, and I suspect the melodic Magic In The Air which tops and tails the show will be the audience earworm that survives it into the (virtual) foyer, but the rolling notes of Spellbound may give it a run for its money – a beautiful duet between Moore and Qafouri. On the subject of music, I tip my hat to Morales Frost for his nod to Dukas in the clockwork rhythms of Rise Of The Brooms.
Visually the show is stunning. Charlotte Westenra’s direction and Steven Harris’ choreography makes maximum use of Anna Kelsey’s detailed two-tier set, which is lit perfectly by Clancy Flynn. Maia Kirkman-Richards’ puppet designs are incredible. Being familiar with this space at Southwark Playhouse, I get the impression I probably would have been open-mouthed just taking my seat.
So why not five stars?
This filmed show is a faithful copy of what you would see on any given night from the auditorium, if only you were allowed to be there. Magical effects – of which there are delightfully many – are pure stagecraft with no camera trickery. Choreography is pitched at the absent audience, not the camera. Acting is more theatrical than you’d be used to on a small screen. In short, it’s nothing like really being there. None of this is the fault of the cast or crew – they’re making the best of bad situation. But for me, it just isn’t the same. If I’d been in that auditorium, my eyes darting over the details of the gorgeous sets; focusing in on the nuances of their performances and simply enjoying this spectacle live, I know I’d have absolutely loved it. As it stands, it just feels like a really well-produced Company Archive. But the very moment I'm able to buy a ticket to see this production in person, you’ll find me at the front of that queue, with an extra star in hand.