It’s 40 not out for veteran trouper Ray Spencer as rehearsals are in full swing for this year’s Customs House pantomime.
This year’s show – Alice in Wonderland – promises to be its best yet, with almost 20,000 people already booked to see it.
It may be the first time the theatre in Mill Dam, South Shields, has put on the adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s classic, but the show marks panto legend Ray Spencer’s 40th show.
Ray, who writes, directs and stars in the annual show, and is also the venue’s executive director, said: “Panto is in my blood. I have quite literally grown up with it and I can’t imagine doing anything else at Christmastime.
“I can’t believe this is my 40th season and I am absolutely sure it will be one to remember.”
Ray started his panto career at Westovians Theatre in South Shields, played opposite Bob Stott’s legendary dame for more than 35 years until Bob hung up his frock three years ago and is known to hundreds of thousands of fans as the loveable children’s entertainer Tommy the Trumpeter.
He will take to the stage this year with a whole host of familiar faces, including daughter Natasha, who will star as Alice.
Natasha added: “We’re only a few days into rehearsals and we already know it’s going to be a great show.
“It’s fantastic to be back with my panto family.”
Making her pantomime debut will be opera star Anne-Marie Owens.
She said: “I have never done panto before, but when Ray suggested it, I thought I have to do it. I must be mad, but in Wonderland we’re all mad!”
Long-time Customs House panto favourite Steven Lee Hamilton will play the Mad Hatter, while comic duo Gareth Hunter and Craig Richardson will take on Tweedle Dum & Tweedle Dee.
Luke Maddison and Kylie Ann Ford, who were both pigs in Little Red Riding Hood, will once again become creatures with Luke playing the White Rabbit and Kylie taking on the role of the Dormouse.
Stephen Sullivan returns this year as not one but two characters, taking on the roles of the King of Hearts and Mad March Hare.
Also back on The Customs House stage after four years away from the panto will be Afnan Iftikhar, who featured in TV talent show Superstar.
Alice in Wonderland, sponsored by Hays Travel, is at The Customs House from Tuesday and runs until January 9.
Tickets, priced from £9, are available from the box office on 0191 454 1234 or from www.customshouse.co.uk.