Black Beauty at the Southbank Centre
Plenty of horsing around elevates this bright, modern retelling of Anna Sewell’s classic 1877 novel. The two-man adaptation of Black Beauty from Red Bridge Arts and Traverse Theatre Company is truly a delight for the whole family, and a wonderful alternative if you’re looking to bypass the traditional Christmas panto.
The magic begins when desperate “equestrian illusionists” Big Andy (Paul Curley) and Wee Andy (John Currivan) McCuddy decide to sell their late mother’s belongings. Amid old handbags and a dusty wrestling bell, they discover their favourite bedtime story: Black Beauty. This chance moment spurs the two to retell the bold adventures of the famous horse – with their own twists.
Curley and Currivan effortlessly bring both the McCuddys’ brotherly affection and Sewell’s enduring tale to life over the course of this swift 90 minutes (which features a “wee” interval). From their sweeping entrance to the panto-horse hijinks to the number of characters they both gallop through, Curley and Currivan beguile the audience with a marvellously childish silliness and childlike imagination. The two actors lovingly use every prop at their disposal, bounding in and around Shona Reppe’s charming, inventive horsebox to Dave Trouton’s rosy music. Reppe’s set is wonderfully theatrical: its myriad of little doors, curtains and attachments are used to transport the audience in and out of Sewell’s novel. If you think Black Beauty can’t be told with wellies, a grassy rug and net-linens, this production will make you think again.
The storytelling is wonderfully irreverent and lighthearted, and puts out a gentle hand for the audience to get involved at certain moments. When Andy Cannon and Andy Manley’s script trots close to the more difficult circumstances in Beauty’s journey, Curley and Currivan are there to move over them with comfort and jest. For the young or uninitiated (including this reviewer) it is remarkably accessible and engaging, while for longtime fans it will rekindle their appreciation for the famous novel. The breathless précis, however, might make purists bolt.
While being staged on the Purcell Room’s raised platform does affect the cosy intimacy of this production, Black Beauty rides into the Southbank Centre with sheer gusto. It is just what is needed this Christmas.
Photos: Mihaela Bodlovic
Black Beauty is at the Southbank Centre from 14th December until 5th January 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.