Arbuthnot and The Beanstalk

Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson
The Customs House
The Customs House, South Shields

Davey Hopper as Arbuthnot Credit: Jordan Embleton
Lucy Davis as The Fairy of the Forest Credit: Jordan Embleton
Tom Whalley as Fleshcreep Credit: Jordan Embleton
Kieron Michael as Dame Trot and David McCarthy as Mayor of Cooksonville Credit: Jordan Embleton
Aiden Nord as Jack, Tom Whalley as Fleshcreep and Beth Clarke as Jill Credit: Jordan Embleton
David McCarthy as Mayor of Cooksonville Credit: Jordan Embleton

Well happy Easter and happy panto—yes, it’s now Easter panto time. The Customs House is presenting its very first full-length Easter pantomime. While pantomimes have always been a firm favourite, they have increased in popularity, spreading to include Easter pantomimes, with saucy naughty ones too gaining a foothold.

What better way to open a show than with a packed house eager to enjoy. The first number, "It’s Magic" sang by Lucy Davis playing The Fairy of the Forest, indeed heralds the way to a ‘magical’ show. Next on is larger-than-life Fleshcreep, played by Tom Whalley, who exudes sinister creepiness right to his fingertips, dominating the stage; he is swiftly followed by the first group number introducing the villagers, Dame Trot, played by Kieron Michael, David McCarthy as Mayor of Cooksonville and eventually Davey Hopper as Arbuthnot.

Arbuthnot and the Beanstalk bring us a new version of Jack and The Beanstalk. Arbuthnot has been sent to help his auntie, Dame Trot, and Jack (Aiden Nord), her son, in their struggling business. All the traditional story characters are there: Jill (Beth Clarke) the love interest, the fearful giant, the goose who lays the golden eggs and the beloved family cow, Caroline, who has to be sent to market for sale in order to raise some funds.

Written by Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson, the ST duo—no not saints, more super team, storytelling titans, so a true panto style show is guaranteed. Lots of audience participation, hissing, oh no he isn’t, jokes for children and adults including a personal favourite about the ‘step’ ladders and guess what the ‘car wash’ songs heralds? Yes, the inevitable slosh scene, which the audience lap up—no pun intended. Upbeat singalong clap-to numbers abound courtesy of Jen Stevens, all enhanced with great lighting design by John Rainsforth. True to form, Jacqui West’s choreography complements the action.

The North East has such a wealth of talent and it is great to see a show using that local ability, featuring Sandancers and Geordies in the company. The wealth of experience shows, from the ever-popular Hopper, who also directed the show, actor and writer of pantomimes Tom Whalley, seasoned McCarthy and familiar Custom House faces like Michael, North, Clarke and Davis; the last performance even stars Ray Spencer replacing Whalley as Fleshcreep.

Real panto style costumes are provided by Eleanor Chaganis. Apart from the more realistic characters of Jack and Jill, three are over-the-top fantasy figures like the Dame wearing excessively colourful frocks and outrageous wigs; the baddie resplendent in evil suit and frock coat with tails trailing the ground all topped off, literally, with matching wig and makeup; the fairy in pretty embroidered sequinned dress replete with wings. While very natural, long and loose, it is a pity Davis’s hair matched Clarke's more than her costume and character. A different hairstyle would set the costume off and more than a few facial sequins to establish ‘fairy’, not girl next door, but this may have been the intention.

You certainly get value for money, with an action-packed, fun-filled show lasting two and three quarter hours with an interval; the continuous audience laughter is partly responsible, but not to fear for the children as it starts at 6:30PM. One can see how this is to become a family favourite. True to ‘custom’, it is affordable with all tickets only £15 each, but hurry if you want to enjoy the fun as very few seats remain.

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

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