Its a bit strange reflecting on a pantomine visit on a cold early January morning. The traditional British pantomine is the epitome of all things glittery, fun and festive. Today I’m really not feeling that vibe. Even though it was only last Wednesday so much seems to have happened in a week. New Years’ Eve has been and gone and the Christmas tree is back in the dusty loft. Normal life of work and school has resumed. Even the naughty treats in the fridge have been replaced by healthy veg.
We are big fans of the Customs House and don’t mind the 12 mile drive from Gosforth. It helps that my parents now live in South Shields. We often attend shows with them or make use of their free babysitting service. Located in Mill Dam on the banks of the River Tyne. Just down from the Market Square and the Shields ferry landing, it is easy to locate and hard to miss. Parking is a breeze thanks to its large free car park outside.
The Customs House
The Customs House is a historic building that was once was home to an industrial warehouse. Further back in time the building was a morgue. Handily located to fish out the dead bodies that were washed up from the River Tyne! I love a bit of grissly local history.
The past is in the past though and in the 1990’s the building was acquired by the Tyne and Wear Development Corporation which transformed the historic building into a 450 seat theatre, cinema, cafe and gallery space.
There’s always something going on at the Customs House and shows cater for all ages. Back in September we blogged about the monthly Jason Cook comedy club. A brilliant night of alternative comedy. If you haven’t seen Jason live before, book up! Such a laugh and great value for money.
My minor criticism of the panto at the Tyne Theatre & Opera House was the lack of leg room. At the Customs House there was plenty. Our seats were up in the gallery but we still had a great view of the action. The Hooper gang was joined by my parents Elizabeth and Derek, and my Nana Betty. My Nana has some mobility issues we were pleased to see an accessible lift which took her to the top floor. Once we were settled and the selection box chocolate in hand we sat back to let the story unfold….
Jack and the Beanstalk
Cast and Story
Jack & the Beanstalk is a panto favourite, and this was actually the second time we’d watched this story. The first being the People’s Theatre version with the Brownies. We were introduced to Dame (played by Ray Spencer) and her hapless lads Jack (Luke Maddison) and Arbutnot (David john Hopper). They soon launched into the song ‘Bills’ when mentioning their financial woes.
The major of the fictional Cooksonville was pompous and his daughter Eloise was the love interest of both of the sons. This could get awkward. Lots of South of the river jokes here ‘Cleadon..where old money meets new debts’ and lots of funny references to savaloys, pokemon go and the lack of shops in the town centre! These were all lost on the kids but my Nana, an avid Shields Gazette reader, was tickled!
The standout vocalist for me was the villian Fleshcreep (Steven Lee Hamilton) who did a great version of ‘Evil Like Me’. This song comes from one of Imogen’s favourites Disney channel movie the Descendants. He was creepy and played the part perfectly with Abigail joining in to the boos. Some other great performances were noted by Eleanor Chaganis as Fairy Arachis and Natasha Haws as Eloise. One memorable scene was when Eloise sang ‘I’m wishing’ next to a wishing well which lead to lots of comedy moments with Arbutnot.
Sam from North East Family Fun, had reviewed the pantomine earlier on in the month, so I knew that the viral hit ‘Pen Pineapple Apple Pen’ was going to feature. When we were in Butlins in October our friend Jaimie had introduced us to this youtube ‘hit’ as it had been lost on us. The song hadn’t travelled this far up the A1 but the Norfolk and Kent kids in our group were going mad for it. Imogen kindly sent the link to my Dad so he knew all the words and didn’t have that puzzled look like the rest of the adult audience. What a trooper! And if you haven’t heard it please you tube it. Its completely bizarre!
Costumes and Set
I absolutely love the slightly steampunk and surreal sets created by Paul Shriek and Matt Fox.
Paul said to the Chronicle:
“Through pantomine at The Customs House we invite the audience to ‘embrace the moment’, forget the ‘real’ world and journey with us to a land where they can escape into the fairytale being told”
I honestly think the guys achieved this and I loved the colour clashing and liberal use of sparkle. The inclusion of Ray Spencers’ former guise ‘Tommy the Trumpeter’ into one backdrop was appreciated by the South Tyneside audience! We were also impressed with the use of clever animatronics for the depiction of the giant hand. So much detail for a small part of the show.
Once the final curtain fell to a cheering audience it was time for our Giant’s Feast party. Held in the function room which was in the adjoining building linked though by a glass tunnel. The Giant’s Feast was available on selected dates during the panto run and was priced at £10 per person (with a family ticket at £25). Held at 4.30pm between the matinee and the evening performance you could go before or after the show. Last year, we went before Alice and Wonderland and the kids didn’t have a clue who the characters were so we chose to go after the performance this time. Makes more sense to me.
We were welcomed to the party by the host who quizzed us on our favourites characters before they entered the room to applause. The girls really enjoyed having their photos taken with the cast and Imogen did a few selfies! You could see the costumes up close and see just how much detail and delicate work had gone into them. The gang were all lovely with the girls asking them their ages and names, and we were interested in how their panto run was going! I cannot believe the number of shows these guys do with very few days off!
It was soon time to say goodbye to the cast and get on with some party games. Abigail managed to keep a stony silence on musical statues and was rewarded by a Tommy the Trumpeter mug. One day i’m sure you’ll see these treasures on the Antiques Roadshow.
We were all hungry at this point so enjoyed tucking into the feast. It wasn’t anything majorly fancy, but filled a hole! Lots of sandwiches, crisps, chicken goujons and chocolate cookies. Tea and coffee and juice for the kids was on tap too. It would have been nice for the room to have a paid bar. As we needed our red wine fix we had to pop to the main bar downstairs. Not too much trouble but would have made a small improvement on the venue. While we ate the girls went up for a glitter tattoo and a balloon animal..which burst after 2 seconds of heavy manhandling.
After the Feast, the host dragged the adults up too for a few games. It’s times like this when i’m so glad my girls have grandparents who don’t mind having to do silly games. Abigail wasn’t the only winner of the coveted Tommy the Trumpeter mug as my Dad won the Gangham dance off! Hidden talents!
We left the Customs House just as the audience for the evening show were piling in which led to a bit of a bottleneck in the small box office area. Maybe this could be slightly staggered in the future to prevent the crush.
Lampton Worm 2017
The panto was a huge hit from the whole family. The addition of the afternoon tea made it a real family trip out. We are looking forward to The Customs House next offering The Lampton Worm in December 2017. By being a bit more organised I’d like to book up earlier to ensure a spot closer to the action. Let’s hope they continue to offer the tea party as an addition as I think it’s a good idea executed well.