Tag Archives: Charlotte Westenra

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” from Stream.Theatre

This ambitious new show makes a valiant effort in a tricky category – the family musical. Inspired, like the Disney film, by Goethe’s poem, we get the famous brooms, brought to the stage with the aid of Maia Kirkman-Richards’ puppetry design. But the show aims to please more than children, unfortunately to its detriment.

Our apprentice is a feisty young woman called Eva, a huge role for Mary Moore, and the sorcerer is her Dad, played by David Thaxton. It’s a good twist to have a “little anarchist” as the star, and her father is a magician far from the usual stereotypes. Both performers have strong voices and acquit themselves well. 

Problems comes with writer Richard Hough’s characterisation. The exploration of the troubled family relationship is predictable and laboured. Eva’s coming-of-age story is poorly handled, her father’s perspective shoe-horned in. The transformation Eva sings about isn’t one I’m sure we need… I quite like her from the start! That said, for a young woman with magical talents who manages to save the world (sorry about the plot spoiler), Eva needs an awful lot of validation. A burgeoning love affair (with a poorly drawn character Yazdan Qafouri tries hard at) further slows things down.

Marc Pickering

On top of this family drama, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is also a climate change parable. The Northern Lights, the source of magical power, are being exploited… with dangerous consequences. The too simple scenario at least gives rise to some unusual villains. Marc Pickering is excellent as factory owner Fabian Lydekker: in a show so lacking in humour, he’s a real highlight. Dawn Hope’s role as mother Lydekker is hampered by the poor comedy, and plot twists that come too late, but is admirably far from cartoonish.

With so much going on, including the neat idea that Eva and her father can hear “the music of the aurora” the score struggles to hold the show together. Ben Morales Frost’s music tries hard; he knows variety is needed but a wish to be epic creeps into most pieces and the result feels self-conscious and generic. The lyrics are better – they scan well. Indeed, it’s only with Eva’s love interest that Hough stumbles.

More than usually, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a show I feel should be judged on stage. It’s clear that Scarlet Wilderink’s work directing the puppets would be better appreciated live. Likewise with the magic tricks and Steven Harris’ choreography, including a very neat treatment of the Northern Lights. And I’d love to know if Pickering’s big number – surely a show-stopper – is the success I’d bet on. Director Charlotte Westenra, whose work is impeccable, has assembled a talented team that could create the atmosphere needed to make the show magical. Although the production and filming are accomplished, I’d like to feel this is a training run for the real thing.

Until 14 March 2021


Photos by Geraint Lewis

“I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change” at the Chiswick Playhouse

This massive off-Broadway hit, which has had international success since its first outing in 1996, is the first show at the previously named Tabard Theatre in Turnham Green. More a review than a musical, with book and lyrics from Joe DiPietro and music by Jimmy Roberts, it’s a fun night out providing plenty of laughs. With a sketch show feel and an eye on contemporary mores, the songs provide a “world wind tour” through many stages of love – from first dates to divorce – and makes for perfect fringe theatre material.

The production is a UK premiere of sorts – it’s a new version of the show – and director Charlotte Westenra does a fine job conveying a fresh feel to both additional and familiar songs. If the recent numbers are a touch predictable (focusing on technology), they’re funny enough. Picking out situations everyone can recognise means DiPietro’s lyrics often have a stand-up comedy feel. And seeing the jokes a mile off can become tiresome. But Westenra deals with potential pitfalls well: she uses a light touch, steering clear of cynicism, and rapid costume changes to create an informal atmosphere. There are heartfelt songs to change the pace, but the emphasis is on entertainment and the 80 minutes zip along.

The production is aided by a top-notch quartet who bring out a lot from each number. In alphabetical order, Dominic Hodson, Laura Johnson, George Rae and Naomi Slights all deliver a variety of accents, ages and characters that mean they impress with each number. Do the boys have an edge? Playing two old men towards the end might mean they take the prize. But there’s enough battling of the sexes in the show itself – and all four impress with their acting. Even better, the production is a chance to hear perfect singing without amplification – a truly welcome change that I love.

Until 30 November 2019


Photo by Savannah Photographic

“Shangri-La” at the Finborough Theatre

Amy Ng’s new play takes us to China, tackling relationships with Tibet and the West through the well-applied prism of tourism. Our heroine is Bunny, skilfully portrayed by Julia Sandiford, a local who becomes a tour guide and photographer and whose breaking of taboos neatly establishes the play’s dramatic dilemmas.

Bunny’s employer is a company that aims for authentic and sustainable travel. Sounds nice. The naïve boss (Kevin Shen) wants “relationships not transactions”, and yet Ng’s strong script falters with the former, unaided by director Charlotte Westenra’s speedy pacing. This remarkably assured first full-length play deserves a more nurturing delivery.

Andrew Koji and Rosie Thomson
Andrew Koji and Rosie Thomson

Bunny’s dedication to her employers for isn’t quite convincing, while her animosity to her fellow guide (a standout performance from Andrew Koji) also stumbles. Credit is deserved for showing restraint when it comes to jokes about their rich-bitch client. Rosie Thomson, who takes the role, tries hard to add some depth, also impressing in flashbacks as a photojournalist who bribes and inspires Bunny. It’s a shame these first encounters with a camera – Bunny’s biggest passion – are the poorest scenes, being written too literally and delivered too quickly.

When it comes to those “transactions”, though, Ng is pin sharp and develops her play perfectly. The exposition of history and culture impresses and informs without condescension, while the economic arguments and impact of tourism are explored with nuance, and deeper repercussions ripple out nicely. Putting forth so much discussion so comprehensively is often what playwright’s struggle with most. Shangri-La leaves you wanting to see where Ng will visit next.

Until 6 August 2016


Photos by Scott Rylander

“Venice Preserv’d” at Paynes and Borthwick Wharf

Another ‘immersive theatre’ piece, Venice Preserv’d begins at the Cutty Sark. The first part is a promenade where audience members march along the Thames accompanied by musicians and performers past bemused tourists wondering what the hell is going on. Not practised at waving a large flag and generally uncomfortable about being part of the spectacle, I had some trouble entering into the spirit of things. But others had come dressed for the occasion and, on a nice night, it was a jolly stroll. Quite a long walk, actually, into a very residential area, as the final destination is the new development Paynes and Borthwick Wharf, transformed, by our imaginations, from Greenwich into Venice.

Greenwich is often used as a location for films – it’s surprisingly versatile, and using the dramatic backdrop of Canary Wharf to parallel the mercantile Renaissance city is thought provoking. The tone of menace within the play – terrorists are threatening the city – is a tough call, though, and the carnival atmosphere seems at odds with what follows. However, director Charlotte Westenra, working with designer Helen Scarlett O’Neill, uses the still unfinished site well. Credit, of course, to the property developers United House, La Salle and Lane Castle for such an exciting project.

It has to be noted that, for all the inventive touches (getting the audience to wear cloaks, giving them lanterns and having a real go at improvised, individual action with the crowd) the most effective parts of the show don’t really need them. When you settle down into a seat, the sets are good and there is some impressive video. Venice Preserv’d is a late Restoration tragedy, a once popular work, by Thomas Otway, that’s well worth seeing: a strong script full of “power, honour, wealth and love”. The second ingredient is the key. Honour is the obsession that drives the action – which can seem odd, but Westenra’s pace and precision makes the play really entertaining.

Best of all, Westenra has secured some fine acting from her leads. Here the ‘up close and personal’ feel of the production really takes off. Ashley Zhangazha is fantastically compelling as Jaffier, torn by loyalty towards his friend Pierre, performed by Ferdinand Kingsley in an appropriately grandiose manner, and his wife Belvidera, played superbly by Jessie Buckley. Vacillating between despair at his own fortune and the state of Venice, while his wife advocates loyalty to the city, Zhangazha’s chemistry with Buckley is electric. There’s also a strong performance from Ayesha Antoine as a sexy and intelligent courtesan. All four deliver their lines impeccably – no extras are needed – and are a joy to listen to.

Until 8 June 2014

Photo by Johan Persson

Written 7 May 2014 for The London Magazine