FamilyFestive 15/16North East & YorkshirePantomimeReview

Alice in Wonderland – The Customs House, South Shields

Writer: Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson

Director: Ray Spencer MBE

Musical Director: David Bintley

Designer: Paul Shriek, Matt Fox

Choreographer: Jacqui West

Reviewer: Anna Ambelez

Lewis Carols Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Customs House are both celebrating 150 years this year, and it is wonderful that Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson have written this highly original pantomime to mark the occasion. It abounds with all the familiar characters while retaining all the traditional pantomime favourites.

A magical wonderland stage greets you on entering the auditorium, setting the scene and has the audience clapping before it begins. White Rabbit (Luke Maddison) appears first rushing to see the Queen (Anne-Marie Owens). Alice (Natasha Haws) follows with a highly entertaining animation (Sheila Graaber) of cats who invite Alice to enter their mouth to find the Rabbit.

The Queen of Hearts (Anne-Marie Owens) entrance is stunning and regal. The Mad Hatter (Steven Lee Hamilton) is a dashing figure while Tweedle Dee (Gareth Hunter) and Tweedle Dum (Craig Richardson) never fail to raise a laugh with every entrance. The Mad March Hare (Stephen Sullivan) leaps about madly and when the same actor changes into the King of Hearts he retains that edginess in movement and characterization. The Dormouse (Kylie Ann Ford) is gently endearing and an aspiring clown. The Knave of Hearts (Afnan Iftikhar) narcissistically amusing, cuts a striking figure.

Maddison, with a soft Cornish accent, connects and has the sympathy of the audience. Alice is very much her own person, standing for fair play and common sense. Then there is The Duchess (Ray Spencer), who has the whole theatre in the palm of his hand whenever he is on stage. Celebrating his fortieth year of pantomime in accomplished style, Spencer again also directs.

This is a fantastic night’s entertainment, throughout; the scenery and costumes (Paul Shriek and Matt Fox) are magnificently imaginative, with fabulous matching wigs and shoes. The musical numbers (David Bintley) have the audience tapping and clapping away. The excellent dance sequences (Jacqui West) complement the singing instead of intruding, with superb outfits. Every scene follows on effortlessly to the next, full of pace, with the audience engaged throughout. Humour abounds for both the children and adults. The costumes in the Star Wars scene alone are a great source of fun.

The singing is strong, especially from the principals; Alice, the Mad Hatter and Knave of Hearts. There are some great company numbers. Special mention for The Queen of Hearts, whose stunning mezzo-soprano voice takes this show to another dimension. This is the first time that South Shields born Anne-Marie Owens has appeared in a Pantomime, but hopefully it will not be the last.

While advertised as “The Little Pantomime with the Big Heart”, there is nothing little about this show, it is big in every department, the packed auditorium of happy gleaming faces testify to that. The Customs House has a tradition of producing a good family pantomime, but this year is exceptional. If you do not yet have tickets, hurry, this is definitely a show you do not want to miss.

Runs until Saturday 9 January 2016 | Image: Contributed

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