Friday, 20 December 2019

REVIEW: Black Beauty at the Southbank Centre's Purcell Room


Deep in the middle of the concrete jungle that is the South Bank centre is a little family show that deserves to get noticed this Christmas. Black Beauty is an absolutely charming, fun and inventive reimagining of Anna Sewell's 1877 novel for today's young children. It has a strong nostalgic feel with its use of the seventies TV series theme tune, a 1950's looking hard back edition of the novel and an absence of mobile phones which parents and grandparents will enjoy. It evokes memories of animated Jackanory story tellers and playtime retelling and acting out of well known tales as children. But is aimed at a young audience of five to ten year olds and judging by the response from the audience it lands very well with both the young and old alike.

The storytelling is done by a pair of out of work Pantomime horse performers, Big Andy and Wee Andy (the back end of Hamish the horse) stranded in an M25 layby with their horsebox awaiting a call on the emergency phone with offers of work. Their car boot sale prompts memories of their mum and her possessions trigger the retelling of some of the dramatic Black Beauty scenes and the characters the horse meets in his life. It is all very creatively reimagined using the horse box and a few props with a delightful gentle humour that leaves you grinning with pleasure.

Paul Curley and John Currivan play Big and Wee respectively and have a lovely partnership clowning their way through the ninety minutes running time, engaging the audience as they frequently break the fourth wall in Pantomime style audience participation. They brilliantly use simple props to create the horses and characters including three different boots to represent the friendship Beauty finds in the stables.

The horse box becomes the Hackney carriage which Beauty has to pull later in his life with all the customers appearing in a window as they travel around London. The creative team Andy Carmen, Andy Manley and Shone Reppe have added lovely touches like the horse shadow puppet, two handbags representing the heads of horses and an amusing short film to give it a happy ending. 

It poses two thoughts to take away; Firstly why are there no Pantomimes that use pantomime horses anymore? But more importantly, there are good days and there are bad days but it is ok as long as you have each other.

While pantomime producers are missing a comic trick with a good old fashioned pantomime horse, it is the second message that leaves you with a warm heartfelt glow that being together and kind to each other at Christmas is the best part of the festivities.

Review by Nick Wayne

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: Stalls Row D | Price of Ticket: £20
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