A popular panto is proving to be a family affair once again.
Ray Spencer, executive director of The Customs House, has been involved in the festive tradition for more than 40 years in South Tyneside, including a previous production of this year’s panto, The Lambton Worm, in 1997.
This year he will be entertaining audiences as Dame Bella Ballcock - and once more he'll be taking to the stage alongside his daughter Natasha Haws, who is playing Susie the Soothsayer.
Ray said: "I can’t imagine not being involved in panto. It is absolutely unique to the UK and it is such a big part of everyone’s Christmas, which is a special time anyway.
"You rarely get a chance to get generations of families together, from the very young to the very old, and have an opportunity to entertain them all."
Natasha has played a leading role alongside her father in the last three pantos at The Customs House and also appeared as a dancer in panto between the ages of seven and 15.
The 23-year- old said: "I have been a part of panto for as long as I can remember.
"My dad and I get on really well, we work very well together and we always sit and have a cup of tea in the interval and talk about how things are going.
"Panto is definitely his favourite time of year. He’s been doing it for so long and there are so many happy memories linked to it."
Natasha is playing a magical role for the first time this year, having been encouraged to try something different by her mother, Trish Whale.
She added: "My mam used to do panto and she played principal boy for years.
"She said it was all very familiar until she played the Spirit of the Ring in Aladdin and moved on to the magical roles, which she said were her favourite.”
This year’s panto has been written in celebration of the 150th anniversary of The Lambton Worm song, which tells the County Durham legend of John Lambton’s battle against a
fearsome worm that had been terrorising local villages.
It has been given a fresh panto spin by Ray and co-writer Graeme Thompson, with Ray’s son James influencing the ending.
Ray added: “Victorians liked really gruesome ends to their pantomimes, but we have moved on. My son said he didn’t want the worm to die at the end, so we have put a twist in the
Newcastle-based Fox and Shriek have designed the set and costumes and South Tyneside Dance Workshop are providing the backing dancers.
The cast also includes David John Hopper as Arbuthnot, Steven Lee Hamilton as The Brave and Bold Sir John, Georgia Nicholson as Poison Pen from Penshaw, Eleanor Chaganis as The
Princess, Gareth Hunter as The Sultan, Cal Halbert as Lord Larry Lambton and Lewis Jobson as Puddles the Dog.
The Lambton Worm runs until Saturday, January 6, with ticket prices starting at £9.99. Performance times vary. Contact the box office on (0191) 454 1234 or book online at www.customshouse.co.uk.