Henry Walker and the Wheel of Death (Bath)

This adaptation by Roughhouse Theatre at the Rondo Theatre is “enchanting yet sinister”

Madelaine Ryan and Dan Gaisford.
Madelaine Ryan and Dan Gaisford.
© Matt Collins, Crush Images

Based on the novel Mr. Sebastian and the Negro Magician by Daniel Wallace (author of Big Fish) and adapted for the stage by Shane Morgan, Henry Walker and the Wheel of Death is the tale of a lost and tortured soul, who fell victim to his own father’s poverty. The story unravels through the recollections of his oddball circus friends, who piece together what they know of Henry's mysterious and extraordinary existence.

Henry Walker (Dan Gaisford and Alex Stedman) and his sister Hannah (Madelaine Ryan) are as close as a brother and sister could be. The youngsters live with their prosperous mother and father. But after their mother’s death and their father’s decline into alcoholism, Henry strikes up an unusual friendship with a magic-man named Mr. Sebastian and starts learning the tricks of the black magic trade. Then, one disastrous night, which will torment Henry for the rest of his life, his sister vanishes into thin air during his first magic show, never to be seen again.

An enchanting yet sinister tale of love, life, death and conspiracy, seen through the eyes of a deranged mind, it has you questioning reality from beginning to end. The play leads full circle to a near identical finale, re-enforcing the twisted moral of the tale.

Produced by the critically acclaimed Roughhouse Theatre, the standard of acting is delightfully exciting. Whilst there is an occasional stumble over lines, the cast’s dynamic performance is enough to make you want to sit up in your seat and catch every last word the characters say.

Particular credit must be given to Tom Turner, as the private investigator, who enters the play at the very beginning, narrating a vast amount of the tale, but does not enter the plot until the last moment. Steadman’s appearance as Mr. Sebastian’s initial incarnation is the perfect ratio of menace to enchantment. Also, to not praise Ryan, who conjures a reminiscent image of childhood innocence in her portrayal of Hannah Walker, would be an injustice.

Laced with music from the 1940’s and 50’s, the soundtrack is truly refined and the set and costumes are simple yet inventive and authentically put to use on the small stage. Keeping the costumes simple means the actors can change between characters without too much confusion, and each of the performers show their strengths in the portrayal of numerous human emotions through these differing roles.

Throughout the performance the audience are kept in the dark about the truth of the tale, though there is an element of wariness in the air, which keeps you on edge as the plot unfolds and our protagonist Henry becomes ever more manic in his search for his beloved sister.

With elements of physical theatre, choreographed by Moira Hunt, used in scenes with a strong focus on the supernatural world, there is little doubt that director Morgan knows the tale of Mr. Sebastian and Henry Walker like the back of his hand.

Ending on the note that there is "something truly liberating about the truth", in reality this spectacle spends most of its time creating a vast illusion. But to uncover the truth about what really happens to Hannah and Henry Walker, you must make a trip to see Henry Walker and the Wheel of Death. You won’t be disappointed.

– Hannah Sweetnam