I've seen every Panto at The Customs House between 1997 - 2012! I'll be honest I didn't enjoy the last one as much as previous years and so we didn't book again for 2013 but I took the chance on some special offer tickets this week to see Little Red Riding a Hood.
Arrival and ticket collection was smooth and easy, the car park has plenty of free spaces and there's a good selection of sweets snacks and drinks available in the bar.
Now having seen so many of Mr Spencer's panto's I could probably tell you most of the jokes and I think I definitely know all of the community songs (that's the one at the end that everyone joins in with). But this year I've laughed out loud (always a good sign) and even gasped at some of the jokes aimed at the grown ups! The kids have giggled and most everyone in the audience seemed to be having fun. This year of course see's the return of Ray Spencer not in his previous role of Tommy but as Dame Hood. He's still as funny and watching him sing 'All about the bass' with a Geordie twist was hilarious. Joined by daughter Natasha as Red there's a certain gigglesome air between them at points which is nice to see and the partnership with Timber (Craig Richardson) works well. There is a hint (probably intentional) of the old Tommy character about Craig and his facial expressions are very funny.
Peanut loved the frozen songs, obviously! The golden child loved shouting 'he's behind you' in fact he was so absorbed that at one point he was the only one in the audience warning Red about the wolf!
The sets are fun and beautifully painted and the costumes are amazing, Dame Hood's are hilarious and Bracken and Wolfgang'sare brilliantly sumptuous and over the top.
They both loved the community song and obviously the traditional 'oh yes we did' 'oh no you didn't' parts.
I thought performances from Bracken (Jamie Birkett) and Wolfgang (Steven Lee Hamilton) were great! Bracken's voice especially was a surprising delight, not a warble to be heard during 'let it go' and how she manages an entire perfomance in those sky high-thigh highs is beyond me!
The jokes for grown ups were funny and passed straight over the little people heads (rightly so) but they chuckled anyway, carried along by the happy laughter of the grown ups.
Room For Improvement
For me the first half could do with being about 20 minutes shorter, there was a lot little people shuffling and mumbling which I think is always a good indication the younger audience have passed their need for a break.
The Golden Child did not love the scene when Granny gets got by the wolf and as a parent I think it was very cleverly done, but a little scary.
Totally unrelated to the show but I think worth a mention if you are planning a visit... The Customs House lock the back entrance (the one nearest the car park) On an evening so you need to walk all around the building and down the car park feeder road on your way back to the car. So keep this in mind if like me you decide that as its only 30 seconds from car to back door, you can leave your coats in the car so as not to take up space in your seats! It was a chilly walk back round. Maybe park closer to the front if you go.
***update*** The lovely Customs House have been in touch to explain these doors are closed to minimise noise to nearby residents. Which totally makes sense and is really rather considerate!
Overall a lovely end of school holiday treat most definitely 'the little Panto with the big heart' and we will absolutely give it another chance next year. If you've not yet seen it there are shows until 10 January you can book here or call 0191 4541234. You can connect with The Customs House on Facebook and Twitter
Cast List For Little Red Riding Hood
Natasha Haws: Red
Ray Spencer: Granny Hood
Steven Lee Hamilton: Wolfgang
Jamie Birkett: Bracken
Jamie Brown: Prince Chop-a-lot
Craig Richardson: Timber
Stephen Sullivan: Mr Fracker
Luke Maddison: Saveloy
Gareth Hunter: Bratwurst
Kylie Ann Ford: Chorizo