REVIEW: Alice in Wonderland, The Customs House, South Shields, Until January 9

Ray Spencer as the Duchess, Natasha Haws as Alice and Afnan Iftikhar as the Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.
Ray Spencer as the Duchess, Natasha Haws as Alice and Afnan Iftikhar as the Knave of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Tumble down the rabbit hole for a truly unforgettable evening of family fun.

Customs House panto Alice in Wonderland is its most weird and wonderful show yet.

An odd choice for the traditional pantomime, but the story was chosen to celebrate the joint 150th anniversary of the venue and Lewis Carroll’s famous novel, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which was partly-penned in South Tyneside.

And what a celebration it is.

It’s a tale that’s difficult to imagine as a panto but writers Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson have done an impeccable job.

It opens with Alice (Natasha Haws) chasing the White Rabbit (Luke Maddison) who is late for a very important date, and following him to the magical world of Wonderland where she meets a host of unusual characters.

Natasha Haws as Alice and Kylie Ann Ford as the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Natasha Haws as Alice and Kylie Ann Ford as the Dormouse in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Before the show had even begun, I was captured by the visual spectacle of it, and when the curtain rose to reveal one astonishing setting after another, I was just blown away.

The sets and costumes by Paul Shriek and Matt Fox are always magnificent, but this year, they’ve really let their creative juices flow whilst designing Wonderland.

The costumes are more intricate and gorgeous than any I’ve ever seen before. The attention to detail on everything from the animals’ furry cuteness to the dame’s outrageous ensembles is amazing.

Alice is portrayed tremendously by Haws and her gorgeous singing voice is put to good use.

It’s a big year for the Customs House and a big show to match, make sure you’re not late for this very important date.

The panto takes modern pop hits and songs from musicals, transforming them to fit the story. ‘Darling hold my hand’ becomes ‘You’re in Wonderland’ in a song brilliantly performed by Haws, with back-up from Tweedle Dum (Craig Richardson) and Tweedle Dee (Gareth Hunter).

The Queen’s henchmen are Minions in the show, much to the delight of the young audience members.

The yellow creatures’ shouts of ‘bello’ and ‘banana’ had kids screeching in delight.

Spencer, who also directed the show, is magnificent as kooky dame the Duchess. It’s his 40th year treading the boards in pantomime - an impressive achievement in itself - and his off-the-cuff remarks are as fresh as ever.

Afnan Iftikhar as the Knave of Hearts and Luke Maddison as the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Afnan Iftikhar as the Knave of Hearts and Luke Maddison as the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

His rendition of Little Mix’s Black Magic had me in fits of giggles.

Renowned opera singer Anne-Marie Owens is a wonderful coup for this year’s panto. She’s suitably-wicked as the Queen of Hearts and blew everyone away with her huge operatic vocals.

An ‘oh, yes you do’, ‘oh, no we don’t’ battle with the audience, where she belted out her part and the audience tried to match her singing style was fantastic.

Her duet of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’s Chu-Chi Face with the King of Hearts (Stephen Sullivan) was brilliant.

Sullivan also portrayed the Mad March Hare in the show, with an impressive transformation during the interval. His boundless energy, as both characters, and willingness to get the audience involved really shone.

Steven Lee Hamilton was wonderfully-whacky as the Mad Hatter. His rendition of Pure Imagination, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, was stunning. It’s one of my favourite songs and Hamilton sang it beautifully.

Anne-Marie Owens as the Queen of Hearts and Stephen Sullivan as the Mad March Hare in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Anne-Marie Owens as the Queen of Hearts and Stephen Sullivan as the Mad March Hare in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Maddison is absolutely adorable as the White Rabbit, who was given a TOWIE-esque makeover. His announcements of ‘oh my gosh’ before storming off stage had everyone chuckling.

Afnan Iftikhar is brilliant as the vain Knave of Hearts. His concerns for posting regular selfies on his Instagram page provided chuckles and his unconventional duet of Thinking Out Loud with Haws was beautifully-sung and hilariously performed.

His solo performance of This Is The Moment was gorgeous and his version of You And Me (But Mostly Me), from the Book of Mormon, alongside Maddison was brilliant too, but it was a shame that his handsome looks were hidden beneath quite an unflattering wig. He looks much more dashing in his wigless promo pictures.

Kylie Ann Ford was beyond adorable as the Dormouse. Her character’s dream of being a clown was a fantastic touch and gave her the chance to show off some impressive juggling skills. Her goodbye hug with Alice was a heart-melting moment.

Young members of South Tyneside Dance Workshop, whose costumes were just as stunning, added that extra flair with their choreography and Alfie Joey’s voice-over for the Cheshire Cat was great. The green screen sequence of Alice falling down the rabbit hole as she’s taunted by the Cat looked fantastic.

The show is laced with topical humour and was just as entertaining for the adults as it was for the kids.

It’s also worth noting the endless enthusiasm and energy of the cast after two three-show days in a row.

Magic tricks and some brilliant Star Wars costumes also gave the panto some added panache.

Group number I’m A Believer and a Christmas medley made sure the evening ended on a high.

The show is dubbed ‘The Little Panto with the Big Heart’ and it certainly is that.

All I want to know is, when can I go again?

It’s a big year for the Customs House and a big show to match, make sure you’re not late for this very important date.

Alice in Wonderland runs at the Customs House until Saturday, January 9. Click here to book tickets.

Twitter: @vickinewmanjp

Natasha Haws as Alice in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Natasha Haws as Alice in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Ray Spencer as the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Ray Spencer as the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Stephen Sullivan as the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Stephen Sullivan as the King of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Anne-Marie Owens as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Anne-Marie Owens as the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Steven Lee Hamilton as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Steven Lee Hamilton as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.

Alice in Wonderland at the Customs House.