South Shields Customs House
Until Saturday 6th January 2024
The "Little Panto With A Big Heart" returns to entertain South Tyneside. It continues to build upon the hard earned reputation of the creative team behind this marvellous pantomime. We laughed, we clapped, we loved it...this show has all of the ingredients of panto at its finest, without the need to break the bank.
The odd thing is that this panto gets lots of repeat business. The audience is full of all ages - the 21 year old celebrating her birthday who has been there "every" year is not usual. The Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson co-written script works on many levels and it grows up as your family gets older.
I did raise an eyebrow at the choice of story this year. It is a tricky show to pull off without upsetting those who get upset at the casting and stereotyping. The clever thing here is staying away from Peking and placing the show in the Customs House's usual spot of "Cooksonville" - after all, the region has plenty of sand dunes of its own without the need to go abroad.
There were two firsts in the show, one at the very start, the other at the very end. It is the first time I have seen a panto open with a song performed whilst the performer is doing aerial work. Shelley Nicholson, as the Spirit of the RIng did a grand job with both dancing and singing - even when upside down. The other first? It is the first time I had the streamers that are launched at the end whack me on the head with a thump!
The show features a great tight knit ensemble. Glen Richard Townsend has, as expect, taken to the comic role like a duck to water. The crowd immediately warm to him and his antics. The comedy also comes from the others as this show is packed with jokes. Be it the 2 police type guards (Caitlin Fairlamb as Spaghetti and Kieron Michael as Meatballs) or Alfie Joey as the Emperor - the funny lines are shared out. Though Dame Bella's character ensures that we all get our fix of Ray Spencer. His natural charming delivery, even when deliver cutting political satire makes him a central fixture to the story.
Of course we have a charismatic Princess (Reanna Sujeewon) and love interest and chaser of lamps Aladdin (Dexter Greenwood) who work well both as a couple and in their engagement with the audience. Plus Misha Malcolm has the presence to deliver the role of Genie.
Steven Lee Hamilton is a marvellous baddie. His stature, coupled with his theatricality, make it difficult to hate him even when he is making life difficult for our on stage heroes. Sure the audience boo him but it is in recognition of a job well done.
I have already mentioned that the show avoided the pitfalls that come with many productions of Aladdin - but there is another really pleasing aspect of the big calls made here. They completely ignore the Disney movie. Aladdin happily existed before the corporation made their version.
The show, as always is full of music. This year they have the balance right: enough songs, but not too many. Funny songs and straight songs. The reworking of Hello from Book of Mormon gave the intro real energy. Hats off to Musical Director Dave Bintley and the Assistant Jen Stevens in making the songs work so well.
This is a traditional pantomime with the elements that you'd expect. The messy scene is messy and very funny; the take off scene follows the usual formula and had the kids screaming from the top of their voices and "babes" added their magic the the dance routines. The community singing descends into assisted chaos too.
I know normally I would go through the story but I feel that pointing out the changes made here would be giving away spoilers. I like the changes that have been made to the regular "Aladdin" formula and it delivers a very local show that knows its audience well. This is not a script that was bought in and customised - this is a locally created show and it shows.
This is a rollercoaster ride of a panto that, once again, punches way above its weight. It is fun as the talented cast deliver the entertainment. This is why we love panto.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Wycombe 89