Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson, additional text by Davey Hopper
The Customs House
The Customs House, South Shields
Well it’s panto time, again! In line with many theatres, The Customs House is staging its first summer pantomime, Cinderella. This popular folk tale version written by Ray Spencer MBE and Graeme Thompson, with additional text by Davey Hopper, has 1000s of variations, going back to the Greek Strabo late BC up to Brothers Grimm and many more.
Baddie Baroness Hardup (Christina Berriman Dawson) enters stage left, resplendent in ‘designer’, bejewelled trouser suit, sporting a black wig—she reminded me of Peter Durrant, a popular baddie of old, no mean act to follow. Fairy Godmother promptly follows (Jess Brady) and so the familiar story unfolds. Sticking to the well-known tale, there is a jolly twist with two of the most bizarre ugly sisters I have ever seen, Di (David McCarthy) and Coni (Dale Jewitt). They are so over-the-top in every way, they had the audience in stitches.
As expected, there is plenty of booing, oh, no he isn’t and the inevitable slop scene with plenty of slipping and sliding. There are songs aplenty and dance routines (Jacqui West) that add to the fun and do not interfere with it. The bland, pale backdrops do not distract from the bright, jolly costumes by Eleanor Chaganis with David Gibson providing some extra costume magic.
The familiar face of David Hopper, who has played Arbuthnot for eight years, is Arbut-tons, and Den-Dini is played by ’cousin’ Glen Richard Townsend. They have worked together many times and the connection and bounce off each other they have is delightful to watch, plus they both have great voices. Rebekah Summerhill debuts in her first panto as Cinderella and balances well with Andy Borthwick, her Prince Charming.
Another panto, an eternal favourite, is great news but tinged with some sadness. This is the last Customs House show by the ever popular Hopper, who also directed the show. While he is very sad to leave, his new job is “a dream come true”. He is to play Pumbaa from The Lion King at Paris Disneyland. Townsend is to replace Hopper in this year’s panto.
The cast kept saying "there’s no budget," but that does not stop it being a terrific family show. There is an absence of many props, an uncomplicated set and no expensive ‘magic’ tricks, but does good theatre need that? I am reminded of a song by Chumbawamba: "All fur coat and no knickers", having a superficially positive appearance that is belied by the reality. One sees more and more of this in live performance. Theatre means many things to different people, it can make you think, educate you, disturb you, involve you, transfer you to another world or simply just entertain you. In these strange times, one of the things we need is to be taken out of ourselves and It was a pleasure to see so many relaxed, happy, smiling faces in a theatre.
You can rely on The Customs House to produce a true traditional panto, which this is. As ever, it sells quickly, so if you want a good, entertaining family show at an affordable price, book now.
Reviewer: Anna Ambelez