We go backstage at the Customs House’s Alice in Wonderland

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Ray Spencer (The Duchess) fights over lipstick with his daughter Natasha Haws (Alice).
Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Ray Spencer (The Duchess) fights over lipstick with his daughter Natasha Haws (Alice).

The designers behind the visual spectacle of this year’s Customs House panto say they had a big job on their hands when creating Wonderland.

The Mill Dam theatre, in South Shields, is staging Alice in Wonderland throughout the festive season.

The show marks a joint 150th anniversary celebration of the venue and Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was partly-penned in South Tyneside.

More than 22,000 people have already booked up to see the show, which runs until January 9.

The set and costumes have been designed by Paul Shriek and Matt Fox and have earned lots of attention.

Paul, who has been working on the panto for six years, said: “Wonderland is a place that’s well known with lots of people and everyone has their own idea of what it looks like. It’s the same with Oz and Neverland.

“Wonderland is a place full of nonsense and wonder and we wanted to bring lots of colour to create something that the audience could escape into.”

The duo have made the most of the story’s kooky identity to create bespoke costumes and elaborate sets.

Paul added: “We liked this idea that the Mad Hatter had mended everything in Wonderland so there’s lots of stitching and bobbins on the set and a lot of the costumes have big stitching on them as if the Mad Hatter has altered them.”

Matt said: “The Mad Hatter was based on Andy Warhol Polaroids and his finale costume is covered in Polaroids of people.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Paul Shriek

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Paul Shriek

“We took the photos then created the digital fabric and made the costumes and set from there.”

The floor of the stage is a specially-printed digital lino.

Paul said: “We wanted to create a total environment for the characters to live within, and the floor goes over the stage and into the audience so that they really feel involved in the show and like they’ve fallen into Wonderland along with Alice. Everything is totally bespoke.”

The costumes worn by dancers from South Tyneside Dance Workshop also have a special touch from the designers.

I hope everyone who’s a fan of Alice in Wonderland and a fan of the Customs House thinks it’s been a great combination to celebrate both birthdays.

Ray Spencer, the Duchess

The playing card costumes have postcards printed on the back, with messages like the Duchess asking Mary Berry about the Great British Bake Off, the White Rabbit asking Simon Cowell if he’s too late to join the X Factor and Alice begging Ant and Dec to get her out of Wonderland.

Two of the dancers have been a part of the show for an impressive 10 years.

Lori Smedley, 16, from Marsden, said: “I started dancing when I was two and joined the panto at six. It’s fabulous and it just gets better and better every year. I’m privileged to be part of it.”

Brogan Pigott, 17, from Gateshead, added: “I’m enjoying it as much as ever. It’s such a great way to spend Christmas and I’m really grateful to be part of it.”

The panto also sees actor Stephen Sullivan take on a huge transformation during the interval, from his first act character, the Mad March Hare, to the King of Hearts.

The 29-year-old, from South Shields, said: “I was very excited when I found out I was going to play two characters because it’s something I’ve never done before.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Matt Fox

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Matt Fox

“I love really developing characters and making them big so the chance to do it with two is exciting.

“When I saw the costumes, which are incredible, I knew it was going to be quite physically demanding, and it really is.

“The costumes are beautiful but there’s a lot to do in the interval because both costumes have lots of make-up and prosthetics, which means I don’t really get much of a rest and throughout the show, I think both characters demand quite a lot of energy, so I am a bit worn out but I’m absolutely loving it.”

Paul and Matt have already begun working on next year’s panto, Jack and the Beanstalk.

Matt said: “We’ve got a beanstalk to make so it’s a big order. We usually start designing the panto in January but we’re starting earlier this time.”

Alice in Wonderland runs until January 9. Tickets cost from £9. To book, go to www.customshouse.co.uk or call 0191 454 1234.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. From left Paul Shriek and Matt Fox

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. From left Paul Shriek and Matt Fox

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Natasha Haws tops up her lipstick before getting back on stage as Alice.

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Natasha Haws tops up her lipstick before getting back on stage as Alice.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Natasha Haws as Alice with members of South Tyneside Dance Workshop.

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Natasha Haws as Alice with members of South Tyneside Dance Workshop.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Stephen Sullivan is playing two characters in the show and makes a transformation during the interval.

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Stephen Sullivan is playing two characters in the show and makes a transformation during the interval.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. South Tyneside Dance Workshop members.

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. South Tyneside Dance Workshop members.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. South Tyneside Dance Workshop members.

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. South Tyneside Dance Workshop members.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Dancers Lori Smedley and Brogan Pigott have been in the panto for 10 years.

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. Dancers Lori Smedley and Brogan Pigott have been in the panto for 10 years.

Customs House  Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. The dancers' costumes have postcards printed on the back to people like Simon Cowell and Mary Berry.

Customs House Alice in Wonderland panto costumes. The dancers' costumes have postcards printed on the back to people like Simon Cowell and Mary Berry.