Review: Black Beauty – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday December 7 2016

Four Stars

 

For the first time in ages, Scotland’s new writing theatre has opted to present a family show as their main stage Christmas production. Yet, while the horsebox that sits centre stage contains much to keep younger audiences agog, there is an air of nostalgia to this inventive adaptation of Anna Sewell’s evergreen children’s tale that will also comfort those of a certain vintage.

Key characters are portrayed by the use of clasp handbags, boots and net curtains. An old-fashioned vinyl record player spins classic TV themes, including A Musical Joke, for years the accompaniment to the BBC’s equestrian coverage, and the theme from the detective series, Van der Valk. Our patience is rewarded at the climax, with a blissful rendition of Galloping Home, the music from the 1970s series, The Adventures of Black Beauty.

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Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic

We are made to wait, too, for the first appearance of the iconic title character, in a show that employs a framing device featuring a pair of brothers (Andy Cannon and Andy Manley), once renowned as the back and front ends of a famous pantomime horse named Hamish, though now fallen on hard times and struggling for gainful employment. In different hands, this component might seem unessential, but the McCuddy brothers are such endearing, gently funny narrators that we come to welcome the regular sections when the focus switches away from the main narrative and back to the siblings’ hapless attempts to wrest seasonal work away from their arch rival, Daisy the Cow.

 

As to the meat of Sewell’s story, there is a lovely blend in Cannon, Manley and Shona Reppe’s production, of sweet sentiment and dramatic set pieces, such as the early scene in which Beauty gallops through the night to fetch the doctor to attend to Squire Gordon’s pregnant wife. As might be expected from the creative team behind Huff, which reimagined the story of the Three Little Pigs as a crime scene, Reppe’s designs are ingenious, with the serene horsebox gradually opening out to reveal ever more treats and trinkets within, which are then seamlessly woven into the story by the performing pair.

 

Box office: 0131 228 1404, to December 24

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