Black Beauty (Purcell Room)

Currently running at the Purcell Room at the Southbank Centre, this clever and involving children’s show – presented by Red Bridge Arts and the Traverse Theatre – takes the book of Black Beauty as a jumping-off point for two brothers down on their luck.

The McCuddys, both called Andy, perform as a pantomime horse called Hamish: but cows are more in demand these days. So they sleep in their trailer – stationed next to a convenient phone – and wait for their lucky break.

Andy 1 (the “big one”, who is the eldest and smallest) and Andy 2 (the “wee one”, who is the youngest and largest) have an optomistic outlook and endearing sibling rivalry.

The two McCuddy brothers in Black Beauty
The two McCuddy brothers in Black Beauty

For them, memories of their mum and her pep talks translate into a necessarily bowlderised version of Anna Sewell’s book. Nothing here to worry young audiences as sad plot points are glossed over quickly.

The actors playing them (Paul Curley and John Currivan) are gifted at movement and at giving characters to inanimate objects: by the time we met Beauty we were fully on board with boots and handbags representing the horses in the tale. Currivan would make a fine panto dame with his lightning-quick sketches of the females in the story.

As Hamish,their pantomime dancing and clowning brought back dim memories of men dressed as horses being a familiar sight on stage, and added a touch of physical humour which seemed to delight the children in the audience (average age of around 7, I guessed).

Andy 2 and Hamish in Black Beauty
Andy 2 and Hamish in Black Beauty

For adult viewers of a certain age, familiar TV themes from the 1970s and a grainy ending up on the screen will bring back memories of weekend viewing of the much-loved series. Even the closing theme to Crown Court, the pensive “Distant Lands”, got a look-in.

Black Beauty is an accomplished bit of theatre, running around 90 minutes including an interval on press night. The Purcell Room’s stage is perfect for horsey canters, play-fights, and story-telling.

It runs until 5 January and even if it isn’t a completely faithful version, Andy Cannon and Andy Manley have created a family show that hits the spot. Book at the Southbank Centre website.

Photo credits Takis Zontiros.

LouReviews received a complimentary ticket to see Black Beauty.