Writers: Ray Spencer MBE and Graeme Thompson
Director: Ray Spencer
Reviewer: Anna Ambelez
Whisht Lads, haad yor gobs aa’ll tell ye aall a panto story…
This year The Customs House Pantomime celebrates the 150th anniversary of The Lambton Worm. While the story centres on the worm, writers Ray Spencer MBE and Graeme Thompson give it a new twist.
As children, John (Steven Lee Hamilton), Arbuthnot (David John Hopper), his dog Puddles (Lewis Jobson) with the Penshaw twins, Susie (Natasha Haws) and Penelope ( Georgia Nicholson) play together near Lambton Castle. John catches a strange ugly ‘fish’ which ends up in a well, he blames Penny, stops speaking to her and she never forgives him. Years pass, John travels abroad, Arbuthnot works in his mum’s kitchen, Susie becomes a soothsayer, her embittered ‘evil’ sister Penny lives in the wood, while the ‘fish’ grows into a gigantic worm, threatening the community; shades of George and the Dragon.
Once the scene is set, you are entertained with encounters between Dame Bella Ballcock’s (Ray Spencer) with her son; the now Brave and Bold Sir John Lambton on foreign shores where he meets the girl of his dreams, Princess Aneesa (Eleanor Chaganis) and her possessive father The Sultan (Gareth Hunter). At home Hawes carries the story along foretelling future events to Hooper and John’s father, Lord Larry Lambton (Cal Halbert); will her predictions come true, will the soured Penny wreak havoc, will John defeat the worm and what is this all to do with the Loch Ness monster?
The talented cast gives cracking, slick performances throughout, all nine of them, with strong voices, especially Hamilton, Hawes, Chaganis and Hunter who could ably handle a solo song. The atmospheric dramatic darker lighting ( Robin Bainbridge) in the second half was very effective but too brief. The costume, scenic design (Paul Shriek) and digital realization (Mat Fox) is breathtaking yet again. The scenery enhances the costumes, which are works of art in their own right, with the finesse extending to the dancer’s outfits. The walk down makes a real statement, with the Christmas medley giving you a warm Christmas glow.
While the show is over two and a half hours long, it passes quickly, the little lack of energy in the first half is probably due to it being the third show in a day; it would be lovely to see a little of the worm’s body, apart from the head, magnificent as it is.
Many pantomimes try hard to be different in keeping up with modern trends, technology and other gimmicks and as a result, often lose the magic of a traditional pantomime. The Customs House may be the little pantomime with the big heart, but it is also big on all the magic of a long established panto: a saucy dame with a feckless funny son, handsome principal boy with his beautiful princess and all the other necessary characters; lots of booing, slosh, community song, take off scene, colourful scenery, the list is endless. This pantomime oozes the good feel factor, plenty of laughs, for the kids and adults, happy endings, great singing, musical direction (Dave Bintley), delightful dance routines, (Jacqui West), sparkle and audience involvement.
So if you need a lift or cheering up and want to get into the Christmas spirit, head down to The Customs House as you can always rely on them to deliver that special bit of magic that Christmas deserves, Custom made.
Runs until 5 January 2018 | Image: Contributed