Roald Dahl’s the Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar review – the ego has landed in cheery adaptation | Theatre


If you’re looking for narcissism, Rob Drummond offers it fourfold. His adaptation of Roald Dahl’s 1977 short story is a hall of mirrors in which ego is layered upon ego. Our entry point is 14-year-old Mary, played by a bubbly Eve Buglass, whose mission is to break out of single-figure subscribers on her YouTube channel. With an unwavering belief in her own attractiveness, she waits for the likes to come in while listening to an audiobook.

That leads us to the tale of egotist number two, the independently wealthy Henry Sugar. Played by a suave and preening David Rankine, Henry is his own biggest fan. He too reads a book, which brings us to egotist three: Rosalind Sydney’s Jane Cartwright, a doctor with a thirst for personal glory.

Her subject of scientific interest, Johndeep More’s Imhrat Khan, who claims to be able to see with his eyes closed, may seem more modest, but he too longs to be the centre of attention.

Rosalind Sydney.
A doctor with a thirst for personal glory … Rosalind Sydney. Photograph: Peter Dibdin

These comic grotesques circle each other in a cheery production by Ben Harrison that delights in illusions and mind-reading tricks. Imhrat uses magic to put himself in the spotlight; Henry uses it to win at the casino. Their inspiration helps Mary conjure up online followers and the effects, by magic designer Fergus Dunnet, receive repeated rounds of applause.

But for all Drummond’s clever parallels, Harrison’s colour and the actors’ fizzy performances, Dahl’s story lacks jeopardy. The egos might be monstrous but they don’t actually cause much damage. That leaves us with little sense of a problem to be resolved. And although the characters reach some kind of enlightenment, it is because of inner reflection not dramatic conflict.

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