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Review | Black Beauty – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

By Samuel McManus

When someone makes mention of that iconic “cuddy” (horse, to the non-Scottish speakers among you), many people of a certain age will spontaneously start humming the theme tune to the 1972 TV series at their unsuspecting friends/family members. So, already there is a certain degree of audience expectation when they take their seats at the Traverse Theatre this Christmas, to see Black Beauty.

The good news is that this fantastic production of the story will not disappoint; in fact, it will go beyond your expectations.

Instead of telling the story in a linear, sequential fashion, the two actors, Andy Manley and Andy Cannon, play well-meaning but down-on-their-luck actors, who every year rely on being hired to wear their horse costume to tread (or trot?) the boards as Hamish in a local pantomime. Unable to find work in a business saturated by a growing fad for cows, the two men take solace in telling the story of Black Beauty to the audience. The tale is a staple of their childhoods, as told to them by their late mother.

As someone not overly familiar with the story, I didn’t feel as if I missed out by experiencing it through this unusual retelling. I’d go as far as to say the approach offers the audience new perspectives on the story, which was devised by the actors and Shona Reppe.

The production was also designed by Reppe. Initially it seems sparse; when the audience sits, they are greeted by a small horse trailer. But from this baseline the story grows and captivates. In a production aimed at the whole family, the audience is required to fill in the gaps with their imaginations much of the time, but this is not to the detriment of the storytelling. The two actors are engaging throughout, and we soon forget that there isn’t a horse on stage; on one occasion for example, one actor holds up a black leather handbag in one hand and a tan leather handbag in the other, while the other actor leads the straps as if they were a horse’s bridle.

At Christmas time, people living in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas are spoiled for choice when it comes to pantomimes, but as an alternative, Black Beauty more than satisfies. The overall message of the piece is that we should always take the rough with the smooth. In 2016, this feels particularly appropriate, and, if your experience of the story is infused with nostlagia, it’s guaranteed to have you grinning from ear to ear.

Black Beauty is running at the Traverse Theatre until Christmas Eve. If you miss it this time around, don’t worry – it tours Scotland, starting in January, and you can grab tickets here. For more of the best deals on tickets and shows, visit


Words – by Paul Copland