On the opening night of ‘Black Beauty’, the Z-Arts Centre was alive with the thunder of children stampeding around the foyer, playing tag and wandering off from their parents, and I knew it was going to take a Christmas miracle for any actor to keep their attentions fixed on-stage for the 90-minute run-time, even with an interval.

Luckily the bouncy performers playing brothers Andy and Andy, ‘The Famous McCuddy Brothers, Equestrian Illusionists’ who play two ends of their pantomime horse Hamish, kept the children spellbound the whole time. As soon as the lights dimmed and the energetic brothers cycled onstage, the children were instantly transported into their world, and aside from a few comments from some of the extremely young ’uns they devoured the charming story with delight.

The play hits emotionally on two levels – first, the entertaining dynamic between the two brothers, Andy and Andy (Paul Curley and John Currivan), who keep their struggling family business as a pantomime horse alive through their touching brotherly love, and hits secondly through the morals of the brothers’ old favourite story…

Do not expect a dry retelling of an old classic here - if you wish to see the story told with warmth and humour, not shying away from any of the sadness of Black Beauty’s struggles, then Andy and Andy’s storytelling will charm the whole family. Not just for children, the adults had a great time laughing at the great execution of comedy both physical and well-written (Andy Cannon and Andy Manley), while marvelling at the ingenuity of the two storytellers, turning everyday items found in their caravan into characters the audience fell in love with, stayed on the edge of their seats for and cheered on. Black Beauty was very much a real character in the room, no matter what form he took, and never failed to touch the heartstrings of those watching, and I guarantee they’ll touch yours too, no matter your age.

All elements of theatre are used with great imagination, from shadow puppetry, to musical sections with a beautiful score (Dave Trouton), to getting the audience involved to create Black Beauty’s world. Seeing the children really engage with the actors when asked to participate was magical – this show is definitely on the right side of panto, with enough audience participation so kids will be engaged, without any of the annoying clichés that can so understandably get on peoples’ nerves.

The deceptively simple and cleverly crafted set (Shona Reppe) was also the Christmas gift that kept on giving, with Hamish’ horse box being integrated into the seamless choreography of the brothers lives as well as the story of Black Beauty. And let’s not forget darling Hamish the Horse, who caused a never-ending stream of giggles to ring throughout the cosy theatre, and who was a star unto himself.

Perfect for a child’s first trip to the theatre and all young theatre-goers, if you can make it to see this affordable and deeply enriching story, do so. With arts and crafts sessions running before the show each night, this show is perfect for keeping your children entertained and warming their – and your own – hearts this Christmas.

Reviewer: Charlie Bevis

Reviewed: 6th December 2018

North West End Rating: ★★★★