Black Beauty Theatre Adaptation at Broughton Hall

Case Study

Black Beauty Live, Broughton Hall, 2011

In 2011, PEEL Heritage adapted Anna Sewell’s literary classic Black Beauty for a modern audience, bringing to life one of the best-selling novels of all time. The novel was adapted for the stage by playwright James Stones and directed by Chris Ford. This would be the first time in the book’s history that it has been adapted for the stage so the PEEL Heritage team were keen to create an original piece of theatre while retaining the character of the Victorian novel.

One of the biggest challenges in staging Black Beauty was bringing the horses to life. PEEL Heritage worked with top costumier Hayley Neil designer of costumes for the West Yorkshire Playhouse’s production of Animal Farm. This enabled PEEL Heritage’s renowned wardrobe department to create a cast of equine characters with stunning costumes to give theatregoers a real visual spectacle.

Black Beauty was piloted at Broughton Hall in North Yorkshire, a historic estate set within 3,000 acres. PEEL Heritage worked alongside the estate management team to open the stables for a pre-theatre workshop, showcasing some of the estate’s 300-year-old tack while allowing children to meet a real horse and learn about working life in Victorian Britain.

The first part of the Black Beauty production itself was staged as a piece of promenade theatre, led by the actors, allowing the audience to watch scenes in different settings around the grounds. The remainder of the show was performed in the walled-garden where the estate’s popular restaurant, Utopia, sold refreshments.

PEEL also offered a special preview on the Thursday afternoon to local schoolchildren studying ‘Key Stage 2 Victorian Britain’. Extremely well received by the schools, this raised the profile of the production and further underlined Broughton Hall as a cultural venue with the needs of the community at its heart.


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