Desperately Seeking Sugar

If you love The Apprentice, you’ll be disappointed to discover that despite brandishing Lord Alan Sugar across their posters, Practical Magic’s Desperately Seeking Sugar has little in common with the hit BBC series.

A nod should also be given to director Alan Bayley for the cleverer moments of the piece.

Instead, the story follows brothers and business partners Derek (Dan Todd) and Brian (Iain Campbell). In an attempt to decide once and for all who should take charge of the family toilet business, they undergo a series of Apprentice-style challenges that have nothing to do with the running of their actual business. Throw in two love stories, a double-crossing spy, and the booming, god-like presence of Lord Sugar’s voice guiding Derek along the way, and you’ve got all the ingredients for a madcap, laugh-out-loud comedy. Right?

Wrong. Writers Alan Bayley and Iain Campbell show little intelligence in their humour – the toilet business means that most of the jokes rely on, well, toilet humour. The characters are irrational and under-developed – the actors are all accomplished but, limited by the script, don’t quite manage to ever appear as believable. The narrative is messy and takes forever to tie up, so by the time the predictably satisfying ending comes around, the audience have lost interest.

Credit, however, should be given to the actors for struggling manfully through the performance. Standout performances come from Emma Baxter as trodden-down assistant Phyll – teeth becoming more and more gritted as her bosses become more difficult to deal with – and Grant Campbell, who plays eccentric challenge mentor Hamish (think Harry Potter’s Professor Slughorn), as well as providing a commendable Lord Sugar voice impersonation from offstage.

A nod should also be given to director Alan Bayley for the cleverer moments of the piece - interaction with the audience keeps the plot moving, and the brave decision to stage the play in the round comes off with ease. Additionally, the impressive set piece of the outdoor toilet was entertaining, but unfortunately needed some tediously long black-outs to bring on and off - not ideal for a small, intimate venue.

The ultimate failing of Desperately Seeking Sugar lies in the fact that its sense of humour (toilet) and subject matter (the world of business) should really appeal to two entirely different audiences – any adult who found this genuinely funny should probably take a long, hard look at themselves.

Reviews by Caitlin Hobbs

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The Blurb

Hi! It’s the Derek-meister here. You probably remember me for nearly winning The Apprentice (14th place in 2009). Come team-building with me in the Cotswolds. Let’s bluesky our out-the-box thinking and see what sticks to the wall! No refunds. Raucous comedy from the producers of previous Fringe smashes: ‘Critical!’ **** ( A Geek Tragedy 'Hysterically good' **** (ThreeWeeks), 'Allo 'Allo 'Had the audience in fits of laughter' ***** (ThreeWeeks), The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie **** (Edinburgh Evening News), Sex, Lies and Eurovision ***** (ThreeWeeks), Trainspotting: ***** (, The Steamie: ***** (