Black Beauty

Dec 4 2016 | By More

★★★★☆  Humorously inventive

Traverse Theatre: Fri 2 – Sat 24 Dec 2016
Review by Hugh Simpson

Black Beauty, the Traverse’s show for all ages this Christmas, co-produced with Red Bridge, is a million miles from a straight adaptation of the children’s classic but provides more than enough fun for everyone.

The creators of the piece – Andy Cannon, Andy Manley and Shona Reppe – have fashioned something that is further away from Anna Sewell’s novel than the title might suggest. Indeed, it is a long way into the play before Black Beauty is mentioned at all

Andy Cannon and Andy Manley. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Andy Cannon and Andy Manley. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

Cannon and Manley play the McCuddy brothers, Andy and Andy (it’s a family thing), whose ‘equine illusionist’ business has fallen on hard times. Stranded by the Maybury roundabout, they are forced to sell their possessions – including their late mother’s favourite book…

The presentation of that story owes nearly as much to the 1970s TV series, with a tribute to the programme’s fondly remembered opening credits, and Denis King’s iconic theme tune informing much of David Trouton’s effective incidental music.

Most notably, much of the source’s power has gone. While some of the moral lessons remain, the more worrying aspects of animal cruelty detailed in the book are smoothed over to a great extent, and any worrying moments are made suitable for younger audiences – perhaps too much so, as there are plenty of children’s stories that have genuine scares. Peril and pathos do surface, but more in the framing story, with worries about the McCuddy brothers’ ability to continue as a partnership.

While this is not a pantomime, there are many of the features of the genre, from audience interaction to full-blown panto-horsery. Once again, these are somewhat toned down, to the extent that they seem unnecessary.

funny and touching

Where this production really scores is in its original features. The McCuddys’ story is easily strong enough to carry the show on its own, with Manley and Cannon’s portrayal of the sibling relationship being both funny and touching.

Andy Manley. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

Andy Manley. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

Reppe’s design is inventive and ingenious and, together with Simon Wilkinson’s lighting, conjures up effects that constantly surprise and delight. Often it is the simplest touches, such as the use of handbags as horses, that are the most effective and remind us how elegant and surprisingly emotional puppetry can be.

The two performers themselves are wonderfully engaging and adept, inviting the audience in without ever talking down to them. There is a suspicion that a slightly less fluffy approach might have been possible, but what emerges is a touching and enjoyable tale with an appropriately seasonal message of togetherness and hope.

Running time 1 hour 45 minutes including one interval
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED
Friday 2 – Saturday 24 December 2016 (not Mondays)
Tue, Wed, Thurs 15 & 22, Sat 24: 10.30am; Sat/Sun, Fri 23: 2.30 pm; Thurs-Sat (not 24): 7.00 pm.
Tickets and details:


Black Beauty on tour 2017:
Fri, Jan 27, 7pm Musselburgh
The Brunton
0131 665 2240 Book online
Sat, Jan 28, 2.30pm Kirkcaldy
Adam Smith Theatre
01592 583302 Book online
Sun, Jan 29, 2.30pm Livingston
Howden Park
01506 777666 Book online
Sat, Feb 4, 2.30pm Greenock
Beacon Arts Centre
01475 723723 Book online
Sun, Feb 5, 2pm St Andrews
The Byre
01334 475000 Book online
Mon, Feb 6, 1.30pm and 7pm Glasgow
0141 276 9696 Book online
Sat 11 – Sun 12, Feb Inverness
Eden Court Theatre
01463 234 234 Book online
Tues, Feb 14, 2pm and 7pm Glasgow
Tron Theatre
0141 552 4267 Book online
Thurs, Feb 16, 7pm Aberdeen
The Lemon Tree
01224 641122 Book online
Sat, Feb 18, 2pm & 6pm Stirling
01786 466666 Book online
Sun, Feb 19, 2.30pm Giffnock
Eastwood Park Theatre
0141 577 4956 Book online


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