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‘Sugar Lumps and Rosettes all round!’

A New Light Shines on a Black Horse.


Once upon a time, outdoor theatre was just an excuse for a picnic.  Nothing much was expected of the production beyond mild diversion. In recent years, well led by the Open Air Theatre in London’s Regent’s Park, the dramatic bar has been raised considerably higher.

One touring company, PEEL Heritage, has had the grand idea of using stately homes as the backdrop to its promenade productions.

It fits the bill perfectly for their adaptation of Anna Sewell’s take of Black Beauty, much of which is set in Squire Gordon’s splendid Birtwick Park, which has a stable block, paddocks and hot-and-cold running grooms.  James Stone’s dramatisation – which I saw at Althorp House in Northamptionshire – retains Black Beauty as our narrator……..

Please click on this link to read the full article which appeared in The Mail on Sunday on 29th July 2012.


‘The Stage’ reviews Black Beauty Live

Published Thursday 19 July 2012 at 12:22 by Nick Dines

A family-friendly tour that will take in many of Britain’s most picturesque rural estates, it’s hard to believe that James Stone’s glorious adaptation of Anna Sewell’s Victorian classic is Black Beauty’s first canter into theatre.

Charged with the daunting task of bringing our equine friends to life, without drawing comparisons to West End success War Horse, Hayley Neil deserves huge design plaudits for her original feat of costume engineering.

As with the rest of the cast when called upon, star stallion Simeon John-Wake masters Neil’s innovative sculptured horse-head harness, capturing all the essential equine mannerisms throughout Beauty’s emotional journey. His booming narrative fills the outdoor venue, delivering storytelling full of clarity.

A sprinkling of humour exists predominantly in the form of Nicki Willetts’ troublesome Scouse nag Ginger and Jamie Osborn’s splendidly spiffing aristocratic Lord Falmouth. For villainous elements, look no further than Simon Kingsley’s wonderfully grotesque drunkard Reuben and David Peel’s mean miner Skinner.

While remaining faithful to the 1877 text, Stone’s historically accurate new strand is justified, with a frenetic Epsom Derby race that will have you on tenterhooks. Re-enactments of past Crimean War recollections and an audience-engaging auction are equally abundant in tension.

As evening falls, darkness becomes an ally to the set, adding realism to scenes of bleak Victorian London and the grim existence of the suffocating candle-lit mine. This is all a far cry from the idyllic Birtwick Park stables of earlier on.

Sorry Joey, Black Beauty has re-emerged from the stables and is very much a dark horse for open-air production of the summer. There’s no chance of anyone bolting early here.

For information on our tour don’t forget to visit the

Black Beauty National Tour Announced for Summer 2012

A spectacular open-air theatrical production of the iconic book Black Beauty is set to tour the UK this summer at some of the most magnificent Heritage and country houses in Britain. This is the first time that the hugely popular Anna Sewell novel, which has sold over 50 million copies world-wide, has ever been adapted for the stage.

The 27 date tour will be appearing at 15 of the of the most prestigious and beautiful estates in England and Scotland, beginning  at Woburn Abbey on July 7th and 8th, and will travel the length and breadth of the UK, from Scone Castle in Scotland to Prideaux Place in Cornwall. Other venues include Althorp House, Castle Howard, Lulworth Castle, Berkeley Castle,

Hagley Hall, Avington Park, Capesthorne Hall, Holker Hall and Ingatestone Hall before its grand finale at Harewood on August 26th. Tickets for all shows will go on sale on Friday March 30th at 9.00am (ticket details below).

Produced by award-winning BBC Playwright Susannah Daley and PEEL Heritage, the story has been carefully adapted by James Stone in order to bring to life the story of one of the world’s most famous fictional horses. The production boasts the creative input of costume designer Hayley Neil, who has worked on and for, amongst others, Pussy Cat Dolls, Luc Besson, Walking with Dinosaurs, The Kings Speech and most recently the acclaimed Animal Farm production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. This unique 2 ¼ hour production applies the technology and craft of modern theatre, whilst retaining the essential spirit of the original novel.  The stage set has been carefully designed to incorporate the stunning backdrops and surroundings of the historical venues in which it will be performed. Read More