The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of those familiar-sounding stories that exists as an idea more than a definitive version. There’s a Goethe poem, Walt Disney’s Fantasia and sundry reworkings over time, but no standard theatrical text. This accounts for the strength and weakness of Laura Lindow’s interpretation in a generally engaging production by Maria Crocker. It is lively and ambitious even as it lacks a purity of vision.
On the one hand, the playwright has carte blanche to tell the story she wants. This turns out to be the coming-of-age tale of Beth Crame’s lovable Hatty Rabbit, the 13th child born – on Christmas Day – to one uncommonly fertile mother. Her mum does not live to tell the tale.
Begrudgingly adopted by a self-obsessed aunt (an appropriately OTT Heather Dutton), she is mistreated and undervalued, no less so than when she is sent away to the Bish Bash Bosh school for challenging children, a sort of low-rent Hogwarts.
Internalising the world’s view of her as “a nothing, a nobody”, Hatty is as surprised as anyone by her magical powers. Thanks to illusion designer Will Houstoun, clothes fold themselves, a cake rises in an empty tin and a feather quill appears from Hatty’s mouth before writing by itself. Suffering a bad case of impostor syndrome, she needs a run-in with Jessica Johnson’s weaselly Canopus Sly, the Voldemort to her Harry, in order to appreciate her own capacity for good.
This is all entertaining stuff, but Lindow lacks an archetypal dilemma. Her story is full of wit and colour and enhanced by a heartfelt score by Katie Doherty – half music-theatre, half Northumberland folk – but it is slow to get to the point. We’ve reached the interval before Nick Figgis’s eccentric sorcerer has even given Hatty the job of apprentice and some time longer before Canopus Sly becomes a serious threat.
What they are fighting about – something involving underground pipes distributing magic through the community – takes too much explaining. And we never quite get the high-stakes Skywalker/Darth Vader confrontation that would cement Hatty’s entry into adulthood. For all the vigorous performances, it is a show stronger on incidental detail than classic fairytale forces.
• The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is at Northern Stage, Newcastle, until 31 December.