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Celebrating the Customs House

Published: 11 March 2019

After the revival of When the Boat Comes In, which runs this week from Wednesday to Saturday and was first performed in August last year, and before the second instalment, When the Boat Comes In: The Hungry Years, adapted by Peter Mitchell, son of the original writer James Mitchell, which will run from 12 to 28 September, the Customs House is to revive another of its recent popular successes, The Dolly Mixtures (music by John Miles, book by Tom Kelly) first performed in August and September 2016. The revival will run from 21 to 31 August.

Before then, two of the theatre’s comedy stars will also be celebrated. On 10 and 11 April, Tommy the Trumpeter will present one of his famous Tommy’s Parties which, for 25 years, entertained children in the town’s amphitheatre on the sea front and included songs, jokes, games—and gunge. The last Tommy’s Party was on 22 August 2013. But this isn’t a revival. It is being billed as The Revenge of Tommy and it is definitely, so the publicity tells us, “Not for Kids!”

Tommy the Trumpeter is the alter ego of the Customs House’s executive director, Ray Spencer, who also co-writes, directs and stars in the venue’s annual panto, originally as Tommy the comic, but now as Bella Ballcock, the Dame. The new comic, David John Hopper who plays Arbuthnot, Dame Bella’s not terribly bright son, will also appear in the show.

These shows are at 8:00 and earlier, at 12:00 and 3:00 on both days, Hopper stars in Arbuthnot and Pals' Super Happy Silly Mega Fun Gameshow!, a show for children full of games and prizes, jokes and music.

New writing for theatre is not being ignored in this anniversary year. Running from 16 to 20 July, Bobby Robson Saved My Life is a new play celebrating the legacy of one of football’s most successful and well-loved personalities written by one of the Customs House’s favourite playwrights, Tom Kelly. Each performance will be in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, a charity founded in his memory to help find more effective ways to detect and treat cancer.

Finally in these celebrations, “the little panto with the big heart”, as it is known, will this year be Snow White (27 November to 5 January) which was the first pantomime to be staged on the venue’s stage in 1994. But it didn’t star Spencer—he didn’t appear until the following year, so it is his 24th anniversary!

Peter Lathan