Black Beauty review at Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh – ‘inventive’
Anna Sewell's much-loved novel gets a brisk trot around the paddock in Andy Manley, Andy Cannon and Shona Reppe's new take on the story of Black Beauty.
In a framing device that threatens to take over the whole production, performers Manley and Cannon are the McCuddy Brothers, Andy and Andy (it's a family thing). Down-on-their-luck equine illusionists, their pantomime horse is out of fashion, its horsebox stuck on Edinburgh's Maybury roundabout and their only remaining option is to sell their worldly possessions.
Designer Shona Reppe brings a punctilious, modeller's eye to the horsebox set. It is a cleverly versatile stage for Cannon and Manley to bring all their storytelling abilities, as the brothers realise that their deceased mother's treasured copy of Black Beauty will have to go...
The pair recreate Sewell's narrative with broad strokes, galloping through Black Beauty's life and adventures, mentioning but never dwelling on its darkest moments of human cruelty to animals. From that horsebox, curtains can billow out as a dress for Black Beauty's pregnant lady owner or shadows race across country to fetch the doctor.
Aficionados of the novel might not find it dark enough, but will enjoy recognising the passing scenes. First-timers will come to realise it can also be a dark and tragic tale.
Carefully balanced and packed with hidden ideas and word-play, the production draws cleverly from pantomime, storytelling and puppetry. Simon Wilkinson's lighting and David Trouton's sound design both envelope the stage, each capable of whisking it off to pastures new in a tale that finds new morals about trust and looking out for each other.