PANTO season is almost upon us – oh yes, it is!
This year, the Customs House is putting on festive favourite Cinderella.
There have been some big changes over at the Mill Dam venue, in South Shields, with long-serving panto Dame Dotty Bob Stott retiring after 37 years, and Customs House executive director Ray Spencer, who traditionally plays Dotty’s son, Tommy, having to bow out because of an injury.
Ray, however, will be the director, and the new-look cast are raring to go.
Taking up the roles of the dastardly ugly sisters are panto favourites Craig Richardson and Stephen Sullivan.
The duo have trod the boards around South Shields for a number of years, and are no strangers to the Customs House stage.
Craig, 28, from South Shields, who played one of the knock-about characters in 2010’s production of Puss in Boots, said: “I’ve always watched the Customs House panto every year, so when I got the call to say I had the part I was delighted to be in the ‘little panto with the big heart’.”
Stephen, 27, also from South Shields, who played Daddy Bear in Goldilocks in 2008, added: “It’s an institution, so to be part of it is pretty daunting, but extremely exciting. The cast are brilliant, so it’s going to be a great show.”
West End starlet Jamie Birkett, 27, from Cumbria, will take on the role of the scary step-mother, Spirella.
Jamie, who is currently starring in Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens at the Leicester Square Theatre, London, and was shortlisted on BBC’s I’d Do Anything, said: “I’ve heard a lot of great things about the Customs House panto and I can’t wait to get into my wicked role!”
Back by popular demand will be the venue’s very own Prince Charming, Steven Lee Hamilton.
Steven, 29, from South Shields, will be taking on the lead of principal boy for the fifth time.
He said: “This year has almost an entirely new cast. It’s nice to be part of something new, and I’m sure we’ll keep the tradition of the well-known and loved Customs House pantomime.”
Also returning to this year’s show is Luke Maddison in the role of the loveable Buttons. Last year, he played Seaman Weigh in the record-breaking run of Dick Whittington.
The 19-year-old, from Sedgefield, County Durham, said: “I can’t wait to get stuck in. Last year was such an amazing experience and a huge eye-opener.
“When we switched on the Christmas lights last year it was amazing to see so many people there who had so much respect for the Customs House panto. It’s a huge honour to be part of it again.”
Natasha Magee, 21, from Coleraine in Northern Ireland, is this year’s leading lady.
She said: “I may be from Northern Ireland, but I still know the Customs House pantomime’s reputation.
I’m currently living in Chester-le-Street, and my neighbour told me straight away it was a great show.
“I found out I had the role the day after my 21st – it just made my birthday. I’m so proud to be Cinderella.”
Sunderland actor Paul Dunn and Will Graham, from Chester-le-Street, will play knock-about characters Bashit and Wreckit.
Adding a little sparkle and panto tradition will be Louise Elliott as the magical Fairy Godmother, and Charlie Younger will be Charming right-hand ‘man’ as Dandini.
Although Ray Spencer will not be in the show, he will be driving the cast with his fantastic direction and witty script, co-written once again by Graeme Thompson.
Designer Paul Shriek will also be once again casting a spell over the production with stunning new costumes and sets.
Cinderella, sponsored by Hays Travel, runs from Thursday, November 28, to Sunday, January 5, next year.
Tickets start from £8. To book, go to www.customshouse.co.uk or call the box office on 454 1234.