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Preview: Lambton Worm at South Shields Customs House


The Lambton Worm
South Shields Customs House
Tuesday 28th November 2017 - Saturday 6th January 2018

Panto is all about family for writer, actor and director, Ray Spencer.
The executive director of The Customs House has been involved in the festive tradition for more than 40 years in South Tyneside, including a previous production of this year’s panto, The Lambton Worm, in 1997.

Natasha Haws as a child with her mother,
Trish Whale, in panto costume.
He formed a formidable double act with Bob Stott at the Westovian Theatre Society, in South Shields, in 1975, with the pair going on to produce their own shows, moving to The Customs House in 1999.

Ray, who plays Dame Bella Ballcock this year, said: “I can’t imagine not being involved in panto. It is absolutely unique to the UK and it is such a big part of everyone’s Christmas, which is a special time anyway.  You rarely get a chance to get generations of families together, from the very young to the very old, and have an opportunity to entertain them all.”

Bob may have retired in 2013, but Ray is still surrounded by familiar faces when he takes to the stage during pantomime season.  His daughter, Natasha Haws, is playing Susie the Soothsayer in The Lambton Worm, having played a leading role alongside her father in the last three pantos at The Customs House.  She also appeared as a dancer in panto between the ages of seven and 15.

Natasha Haws as Susie the Soothsayer
and Ray Spencer as Dame Bella Ballcock
The 23-year-old said: “I have been a part of panto for as long as I can remember.  My dad and I get on really well, we work very well together and we always sit and have a cup of tea in the interval and talk about how things are going.  Panto is definitely his favourite time of year. He’s been doing it for so long and there are so many happy memories linked to it.”

Natasha is playing a magical role for the first time this year, having been encouraged to try something different by her mother, Trish Whale.  She said: “My mam used to do panto and she played principal boy for years. She said it was all very familiar until she played the Spirit of the Ring in Aladdin and moved on to the magical roles, which she said were her favourite.”

This year’s panto has been written in celebration of the 150th anniversary of The Lambton Worm song, which tells the County Durham legend of John Lambton’s battle against a fearsome worm that had been terrorising local villages.

It has been given a fresh panto spin by Ray and co-writer Graeme Thompson, with Ray’s son James influencing the ending. Ray said: “Victorians liked really gruesome ends to their pantomimes, but we have moved on. My son said he didn’t want the worm to die at the end, so we have put a twist in the tale.”

Newcastle-based Fox and Shriek have designed the set and costumes and South Tyneside Dance Workshop are providing the backing dancers.
The cast also includes David John Hopper as Arbuthnot, Steven Lee Hamilton as The Brave and Bold Sir John, Georgia Nicholson as Poison Pen from Penshaw, Eleanor Chaganis as The Princess, Gareth Hunter as The Sultan, Cal Halbert as Lord Larry Lambton and Lewis Jobson as Puddles the Dog.


The Lambton Worm runs from Tuesday, November 28, 2017, until Saturday, January 6, 2018, with ticket prices starting at £9.99. Performance times vary. Contact the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or book online at

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