Roald Dahl’s wonderful story of Henry Sugar comes to life on stage

ROALD Dahl’s 1977 moral tale, The Wonderful Story Of Henry Sugar, is among the famous author’s lesser-known works.

Aimed at older children, it tells the story of the man with independent wealth whose life is transformed after reading the extraordinary case of an Indian (named Imhrat Khan) who could read without using his eyes. Sugar masters the meditative technique that gave Khan his superpower. He then uses his amazing new skill to win thousands of pounds in the casinos of England.

What happens next is in “spoiler” marked territory. Suffice it to say, Dahl’s conclusion defies critics who have called the Welsh-Norwegian author a “master of wickedness” (a nickname that better suits Dahl’s fanaticisms – especially against the Jewish people – than to the sadistic bent of his writing).

Henry Sugar’s story is less straightforward to direct than other Dahl classics, such as Matilda and The Twits. However, Scottish writer Rob Drummond adapted it for the stage, and with considerable success.

A co-production between Perth Theatre, Helen Milne Productions and Roald Dahl Story Company, the show draws on an extraordinary pool of talent. Directed by award-winning theater maker Ben Harrison (of acclaimed Grid Iron theater company), the play not only features Drummond’s highly intelligent and engaging script, but also Becky Minto’s fabulously elegant design and jaw-dropping illusions. by Fergus Dunnet (to say nothing of the excellent music and sound, lighting and video projections).

The basis of this impressive and comprehensive production is Drummond’s play, which beautifully reflects the writer’s established skill in dealing with teenagers. This retelling of Dahl’s story is set in the very modern woes of Scottish teenager Mary (the excellent Eve Buglass), whose life is consumed by her pursuit of subscribers for her social media channel.

The drama swings between India (where we meet Dr. J Cartwright and his patient and research subject, Khan), England (where Sugar’s butler and protector, Michael, despairs of his boss’ gambling) and the broadcast studio from Mary’s bedroom. In doing so, we are treated to a series of truly impressive card tricks and other illusions that require lively and hilarious ad libbing from David Rankine (exceptional as Sugar) in particular.

When the show doesn’t give illusionist Derren Brown a run for his money, it does well as a piece of theatrical storytelling. Through Drummond’s innovations, we see the connections between Dr. Cartwright’s self-aggrandizing exploitation of Khan, the emptiness of Sugar’s gambling deceptions, and the gulf that separates Mary and her mother from first-to-first addiction. social media endorsement.

As in Dahl’s original, everything resolves into a suitably humanistic morality. That this is so is due, in very large part, to a universally excellent cast – including Rosalind Sydney as Cartwright, Dave Fishley as Michael and Johndeep More as Khan – and director Harrison’s wonderfully cohesive vision.

At the Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling, from April 7-10, and at Eden Court, Inverness, from April 15-17

Rachel J. Bradford