First stage adaptation of “Black Beauty” to tour

A scene from the open-air production of Black Beauty
A scene from the open-air production of Black Beauty.

An open-air theatrical production of  “Black Beauty” will tour Britain this summer, playing at some of the most magnificent Heritage and country houses in the country.

It is the first time the hugely popular Anna Sewell novel, which has sold over 50 million copies worldwide, has ever been adapted for the stage.

Actors play horses in the production, with specially designed costuming  used to create the illusion.

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.

Black Beauty was written in 1877 and was the only published novel by  Sewell, who died five months after it was first printed.

Although a favourite with children around the world, it was not written as a children’s book but as a tale to bring attention to the mistreatment of working horses at the time.

The ground-breaking novel was the first to be written from an animal’s perspective and is recognised today as playing a key role in the launch of the animal welfare movement.

It has been adapted for film and television many times over the past century, but has never before been transformed into a live theatre show.

The new production concentrates on the core elements of the story, following Beauty’s close relationship with the Gordon family and, in particular, with Flora Gordon.

Narrated by Black Beauty, the play covers his idyllic early life, through to his darkest days as a brutally treated London cab horse and his experiences working in the mines.

Along the way he meets many equine friends from very different backgrounds who each tell their own poignant stories about life as a working horse in Victorian times, before he is eventually happily reunited with Flora.

Highlights of the stage production include the famous race scene at Epsom, in which the audience take part, a dramatic mine explosion scene and a flashback tale from an old war horse remembering his time in the Crimean War.

Neil’s unique and specially created head costumes, combined with meticulous choreography and stage sets, enable the actors to truly inhabit their equine characters and for the first time bring the story to life theatrically.

Speaking about the tour, producer Daley said: “Black Beauty is a timeless story, which continues to sell and be taught in schools throughout the world. One of the biggest challenges in staging the production was how to bring the horses to life and also allow them to be them to be the central story.

“Modern design, technology, choreography and theatrical production techniques have enabled us to bring the story to a contemporary audience without losing the core essence of the book.”

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 7 and 8. It will travel the length and breadth of Britain, 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, Finchcocks, Ingatestone Hall and Manderston before its grand finale at Harewood on August 26. Tickets for all shows will go on sale on Friday March 30 at 9am.

Tour dates

July 7th/8th Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire
July 11th/12th Finchcocks, Kent
July 14th Holker Hall, West Midlands
July 17th/18th Ingatestone Hall, Essex
July 20/21st Althorp House, Northamptonshire
July 24th Manderston
July 26th/27th Castle Howard, Yorkshire
July 31 Prideaux Place, Padstow, Cornwall

August 1st Prideaux Place, Padstow, Cornwall
August 4th/5th Avington Park, Hampshire
August 9th/10th Capesthorne Hall, Cheshire
August 12th Lulworth Castle, Dorset
August 15th/16th Hagley Hall, West Midlands
August 18th/19th Scone Castle, Perth, Scotland
August 23rd/24th Berkeley Castle, Gloucestershire
August 26th Harewood, Yorkshire

Ticket details
Prices: £10 for children, £15/£14.50 with concession, £18.95/£18.00/£16.50 for adults and £55/£50/£48 for family tickets.
Tickets available from:
Central Booking Number: 0844 871 7604
Castle Howard: Tel: 01653 648 333
Harewood House: Tel: 0113 218 1010
More information:

Latest research and information from the horse world.

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