By James Still
Based on the book by Anna Sewell
January 24, 2019 – March 10, 2019
Charlotte Martin Theatre
“Kindness is having a feeling for something other than yourself.”
For generations, this autobiography of a horse has enchanted millions. Here, through stunning puppetry, Black Beauty tells us his story. We meet his friends, made and missed, and see the cruelty and kindness that make up a life. This sweet soul reminds us of the power of doing our best…and making a wish.
Now, in the soft deep velvety darkness, we meet a horse. A horse as black as night, with one white foot and a white star on his forehead just making you want to make a wish. This is Black Beauty. This is his story to tell…
When I was just a colt, I lived on a beautiful farm with other colts and my mama. This is where I learned to run and play and always do my best. This was a lesson I brought with me to my next house, Birtwick Park. There, I made new friends, like Merrylegs and Ginger, but I still wanted to remember my story, and hear theirs. Before they told me their stories, though we had work to do. Always work. Always when the master wants, how the master wants, but never any liberty. It is true that Master Gordon was kind, but I hated the bit in my mouth and blinkers on my eyes. I missed freedom. At least I wasn’t trussed in ribbons with the grandchildren climbing on me all day, like Merrylegs. Well, until he bucked them off. He said he did it because the boy was being cruel. Luckily, Master Gordon was wise and saw what was happening. He made young Joe apologize to Merrylegs. The master thought it time to teach Joe the Secret Elixir: “one part patience, one part gentleness, one part firmness, and one part petting. Mix all that with a big helping of common sense—and then give some to the horse every day.” And he did. And the boy changed. Until it was time he got a chance to ride me. We rode like the wind. This made Merrylegs a little sad, and I was sorry for it, but soon young Flora came to learn from dear old Merrylegs, too.
Time went on and all was well, until Fire! Fire in the stables. The air was thick and choking and filled with the sound of cracking; and Ginger couldn’t remember how to breathe. The smell of danger was everywhere, but there was Little Joe pulling me out. Then Ginger. But he couldn’t make it back in time to save Merrylegs. The boy was distraught; Merrylegs was a silly old horse, a good friend, and I miss him.
Months later, Master Gordon still didn’t have his heart back in the farm, so he sold the place, and us. Ginger and I went together, but I do wish I could have said goodbye to Little Joe. At our new home, Earls Hall, we were greeted by Charles, the dog. He’s a good listener. This was where we meet The Mistress. She was harsh and cold and ordered her groom, York, to put us in a check-rein—a monstrous cruel contraption I never had placed on me before. It holds our heads back and up high, not able to move about. With the check-rein, pulling a carriage takes all the spirit right out of me. This was the first time in my life I didn’t trust. “I do not like this new story of mine.”
Every day, the rein got tighter, the strain greater. Every day. When it had gone farther than York could stomach, Mistress ordered the new man, Reuben Smith, to tighten it further. Ginger could take no more, so Smith struck her. She reared and kicked. York got us unfastened and managed to calm Ginger, but the damage was done—to her reputation and her spirit. Soon, another horse arrived, Max, or The Baron, as Mistress would call him. Max looked much like me but for his tail. His tail was cut off, flesh and bone, all for the sake of fashion. It is a cruel and terrible thing, fashion. I wonder if the humans even know how painful these things are. Or if they care? Certainly, Reuben Smith didn’t. He thrashed me when I would not cross a bridge in a storm for fear of it being washed out. I had to throw him. Luckily, Ginger, Charles, and York rode up and take Smith and I back. When York retired he bought Ginger, and they lived happily ever after. I miss them.
Next, I was a cab horse in London, alongside an old horse named Captain. It is hard to go fast and true through the city. So many carts and carriages and cabs. Quick find an opening, but then stop. No moving, and wait. Jerry Barker, my new master, was kind and patient. The Barker family loved me well enough, and Jerry saw the beauty in me, sure. On Sundays, the family rested, even Captain and me. But it’s back to work soon enough, even in the snow and ice of winter. On one such day, Young Dolly Barker saw a man whipping his horse, and she marched up to him yelling for him to stop such cruelty. She has a good heart.
When the holiday came and we were stuck outside in the cold, Jerry fell ill. When he was well enough, the family sold Captain and I and moved to the country. I miss them.
My next owner was the very same man Dolly saw whipping his horse! Nicholas Skinner. And how he whipped me. We took no rest and only worked every day. He called me Horse and used “a cruel whip with something so sharp on the end.” Still, I did my best. But my best could only take us so far. One day, it was too much, and I collapsed under the strain.
I thought surely I would die, but now I’m at another stable, another sale. I am old and skinny and worn, no longer a great beauty. The people look at me with pity. Then I hear it, a little boy reciting the Secret Elixir. And there’s Joe, all grown up with a boy of his own. He sees my one white foot and white star upon my forehead. Wishes do come true!
Animal rights, horses, farming, Victorian England, friendship, storytelling, autobiography
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