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Tom & Catherine at South Shields Customs House


Tom & Catherine
South Shields Customs House
Tuesday 5th - Saturday 9th March 2019

Tom & Catherine makes a triumphant return to The Customs House, from Tuesday 5th to Saturday 9th March, as part of its 25th anniversary celebrations. The original play sold out months in advance of its first run in September 1999 and is widely credited with securing the future of the venue at the time.

The South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society are making a family affair of their joint production with The Customs House, Tom & Catherine.  Kathryn Atack will play Old Catherine and is also musical director, while her youngest child, Bonnie-Belle Atack, shares the role of Child Tom with Joe Cook, who is making his South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society debut.  Meanwhile, sisters Millie and Charlotte Adams share the role of Child Catherine.

Old Tom will be played by Tony Chapman, while Adult Catherine and Adult Tom are played by Natalie Elleithy, who also directs, and Garry Dring. Ellie Falconer plays Young Catherine, while Nan will be played by Dianne Jackson and Kate by Tracy Office.   Natalie, who has been a member of the group for 10 years and resident director for the last three, said: “I have loved bringing Tom & Catherine to life and I am extremely excited about directing and playing such an iconic and challenging role.”

Bonnie-Belle Atack as Child Tom
Garry, who joined his first theatre group at the age of 13, returns to The Customs House stage for a fourth time in Tom & Catherine. He said: “It is a great honour to be part of the 25th anniversary celebrations playing Tom in this revival.”

Charlotte Adams as Child Catherine
Written by Tom Kelly, Ray Spencer and John Miles, the musical tells the incredible love story of Tom and Catherine Cookson, the celebrated author who penned more than 100 books based on her deprived childhood in South Tyneside.

Ellie Falconer as Young Catherine
Ray Spencer, Executive Director of The Customs House, said: “It is lovely to welcome the South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society back to The Customs House for a special production of Tom & Catherine. This musical, first performed in 1999, kick-started a new beginning for The Customs House and it is really fitting that this production celebrates one of the north east’s greatest benefactors and one of South Tyneside’s best-known figures.  I do hope our community join us to celebrate Tom and Catherine’s life and support performers from our brilliant community.”

Dianne Jackson as Nan and Tracy Office as Kate
Ray directed the original production and Neil Armstrong followed in his footsteps when Tom & Catherine returned to the theatre. Versions of the play have also been performed to mark what would have been Dame Catherine’s 100th birthday in 2006 and the 15th anniversary of The Customs House in 2009.

Garry Dring and Natalie Elleithy 
as adult Tom and Catherine 
Adrian Jackson, chairman of the South Shields Gilbert and Sullivan Society, said they are delighted to be bringing it back to the stage for audiences old and new. He said: “We are excited to be performing this iconic and locally written musical which holds such strong associations with our home town. Many of our members will remember the first, very successful production performed 20 years ago whilst some of our younger members are learning about the life of Catherine Cookson and her legacy to South Tyneside for the first time.  We hope that you will come and join us in celebrating the life of Catherine Cookson and enjoy this powerful, uplifting and moving account of her life story as we bring Tom and Catherine home to where the story all began.”

Joe Cook as Child Tom
Catherine was born in Tyne Dock and grew up in East Jarrow, believing her unmarried mother to be her sister as she was raised by her grandparents.  She left school at 14 and after a period of domestic service, took a laundry job at Harton Workhouse, before moving south in 1929 to run the laundry at Hastings Workhouse.  There she met Tom, a teacher at Hastings Grammar School, and they married in June 1940, when Catherine was 34. She experienced four miscarriages late in pregnancy due to a rare blood disorder and suffered a mental breakdown as a result. She turned to writing to help overcome her depression.

Kathryn Atack and Tony Chapman as old Tom and Catherine

Millie Adams as Child Catherine
She returned to the north east in 1976, to confront her past and use her wealth to help others who were not as fortunate. Her foundation continues to make donations to worthy causes. She received an OBE in 1985 and was made a Dame in 1993.  Her books have sold more than 123 million copies in at least 20 languages and have been adapted for television, radio and the stage. She was the most borrowed author in UK libraries for 17 years, up until four years after her death, aged 91, in 1998. Tom died 17 days after his wife.

Tickets for Tom & Catherine are priced from £8 and available from the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or online at

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