Review: Black Beauty, Purcell Room South Bank Centre

Black Beauty at the Purcell Room at South Bank London

Black Beauty at the Purcell Room at South Bank London - Credit: Archant

Charm invention and wit abound in this clever framing of Anna Sewell’s equine tale and the fate of a pantomime horse called Hamish

Traverse and Redbridge Theatre's delightful canter through Anna Sewell's much-loved equine tale is packed with wit, charm and quirky storytelling to please big and small theatregoers alike.

The rather dark story of a loyal, plucky horse from first faltering footsteps to old age is sketched out in a few snippets of beautiful theatrical invention by a pair of itinerant Irish brothers who are two halves of a pantomime horse.

It's the framing story of 'Equine Illusionists' Andy and Andy McCuddy and their beloved nag Hamish that hogs most of the sugarlumps in a set-up that sees them camped by the side of the M25 in a horsebox awaiting the call for work.

That theatre producers now prefer Daisy the Cow to a bona fide Panto horse in their seasonal shows is just one of the running gags for these 'resting' vaudevillians.

Adept physical comics, Paul Curley and John Currivan recount episodes from the book, Beauty's early years in clover-filled fields are told using wellington boots, a hell for leather night ride to fetch a doctor for his pregnant mistress takes a gallop through the audience and makes genius use of a net curtain.

And his rescue of stablemate Ginger from a burning stall is breathlessly told with canny lighting effects. The grimmer elements of abuse and whippings are glosssed over in favour of a light-hearted rapport between the two Andys which also jetisons some of the book's more interesting qualities.

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But long before you get to the final footage of Hamish starring in Spielberg's latest blockbuster, you will be won over.