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Black Beauty review at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham – ‘spellbinding storytelling’

Scene from Black Beauty at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham Scene from Black Beauty at Lakeside Arts, Nottingham

Director Andy Manley has re-imagined the story of Black Beauty using just two actors and a ramshackle horsebox. This is home to the out-of-work McCuddy Brothers. Their grand title of ‘Horse Illusionists’ is a pun in itself because the whole production is based on illusion.

Two handbags thrust through the narrow window of the horsebox become the slender noses of two horses via the power of imagination. A glorious parade of characters from Anna Sewell’s classic story emerge from the entrance, everything from horse dealers to party-goers – even a woman giving birth. Anything seems possible – and this is a tribute to Shona Reppe’s design.

The storytelling is spellbinding, with the story of Black Beauty interwoven with the fortunes of Hamish, the panto horse. Paul Curley and John Currivan have the audience in thrall from the start. Theirs is a brilliant and endearing double act. But while Manley’s production is gloriously comic, it doesn’t shirk the sadness of the original story. Not everything can have a happy ending, says the older McCuddy brother to the younger. This reflection hangs in the air for a moment and then it’s back to business. Beautiful.

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Verdict
Engaging and inventive children’s theatre that makes the most of the audience’s power of imagination
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