Friday, 4 December 2015

Review: Alice in Wonderland at South Shields Customs House

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Alice Is Simply The Best!

Alice in Wonderland
South Shields Customs House
Until Saturday 9th January 2016.

What do you want from a pantomime? Easy to follow and recognisable story? Bright set and lush costume design? Lots of jokes for the kids (and some for the adults too)? A dame that takes control and is happy to interact with the audience? A cast of extremely talented actors who can sing, entertain and make everyone smile? Alice In Wonderland at the Customs House ticks each and every box.

Allow me to explain. Some pantos feel like they are done to you. A few, like Alice, make you feel that you are a part of it. The packed house were all willing to get involved in the antics. It felt like Christmas has arrived. This show is rather special.

Both Alice In Wonderland and the Customs House celebrated their 150th anniversary this year. Even though it is not common panto material, it is sufficiently well known to make it work. Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson have written a play that knows its audience well.

The story starts with the White Rabbit, played by Luke Maddison, running onto the stage and announcing he is late and shooting off. He is quickly followed by Alice who wants to chase him. Natasha Haws is very comfortable in her role of Alice and the audience quickly warm to her.

Alice then meets the Cheshire Cat, animated by Sheila Gruber and voiced by BBC Radio Newcastle’s breakfast show host Alfie Joey.  After a few tongue in cheek jokes Alice decides to follow the rabbit and ends up in a strange world.

Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee are a likeable double act. Gareth Hunter and Craig Richardson spar off each other like a pair of Minions. Kylie Ann Ford’s Dormouse is delightful and the Mad March Hare features another entertaining performance by Stephen Sullivan.

The singing is this year’s Customs House show is a real strength. The operatic training and experience of Anne-Marie Owens, as the suitably terrifying Queen of Hearts, results in a some stunning vocals. Though I’m not sure what Carl Orff would make of the alternative lyrics to Carmina Burana!

Each member of the cast has something to offer in the singing department. Special mention should go to Natasha, Steven Lee Hamilton, as the Mad Hatter, and Afnan Iftikahr as the Knave of Hearts. Their singing contributions really lifted the show.

A great pantomime needs a dame that controls the show rather than wheeled on for a brief interlude.  Ray Spencer gives a panto dame masterclass, handling both the audience and his cast well. There is a real element of the late great Les Dawson in his delivery.

Every panto has its young dancers and the members of South Tyneside Dance Workshop were delightful. Some of their routines were ambitious and they pulled them off.

Even though it was two and a half hours long, Alice In Wonderland flew by. Not only was it was great to see, but it was also great to be a part of. This show markets itself as the Little Panto with a Big Heart. Well there is a whole lot of loving in the venue.  The audience and strong cast make it a panto with no weak links.

In fact, it is the most fun we’ve had at a panto for a while.

This review was written by Stephen Oliver for the North East Theatre Guide from Jowheretogo PR ( Follow Jo on twitter @jowheretogo, Stephen @panic_c_button or like Jowheretogo on Facebook

The Customs House is also adding to the madness of Carroll’s world with Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties throughout the festive season. On December 6, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29 and 30, children will be able to enjoy special parties with an afternoon tea, party games, entertainment and an opportunity for a meet and greet with some of the panto cast members.


Alice in Wonderland, sponsored by Hays Travel, is at The Customs House from Tuesday 1st December 2015 to January 9th.
Tickets for the pantomime and Mad Hatter’s Tea Parties start from £9 and are available from the box office on 0191 454 1234 or from
For exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, competitions and all the latest news in Wonderland follow #BigHeart @thecustomshouse.

Anne-Marie Owens – Queen of Hearts
Ray Spencer – Duchess
Natasha Haws – Alice
Steven Lee Hamilton – Mad Hatter
Luke Maddison – White Rabbit
Afnan Iftikhar – Knave of Hearts
Stephen Sullivan – King of Hearts & Mad March Hare
Kylie Ann Ford – Dormouse
Craig Richardson – Tweedle Dum
Gareth Hunter – Tweedle Dee

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