A MASH-UP of two classic fairytales has ensured that this year’s little panto has an extra big heart, and eyes, and teeth!
Little Red Riding Hood is a magical feast of festive fun for all the family.
The Customs House’s Yuletide offering is enough to get even the most grumpy Grinch or surly Scrooge well into the Christmas spirit.
The venue’s executive director and panto co-writer and director, Ray Spencer, is back after injury forced him to wait in the wings last year.
He makes a triumphant return to the stage, but this time, in extravagant frocks and a curly orange wig as panto dame, Granny Hood.
Spencer leads the cast wonderfully as Cooksonville’s matriarch. He’s cheeky, colourful and at times, just downright rude – it’s packed with more innuendo than you can shake a stick at. But that just means that the grown ups laugh just as much as the little ones.
The show, co-written by Graeme Thompson, tells the traditional story of Little Red Riding Hood, but with a few South Tyneside twists.
Laced with local references and Geordie humour, the show raised a barrage of chuckles from the near-capacity crowd.
Little Red Riding Hood (Natasha Haws) meets the man of her dreams when a chance encounter brings her face-to-face with Prince Chop-a-lot (Jamie Brown).
But things get complicated when evil witch Bracken (Jamie Birkett) sets her sights on the Prince, and sets her wicked sidekick, Wolfgang, aka the Big Bad Wolf (Steven Lee Hamilton) onto Red.
Meanwhile, the Three Little Pigs, Chorizo (Kylie Ann Ford), Bratwurst (Gareth Hunter) and Saveloy (Luke Maddison), are desperately seeking shelter from the pursuit of the wolf.
The line-up is completed by Red’s Uncle Timber (Craig Richardson) and Cockney geezer Mr Fracker (Stephen R Sullivan).
The talented cast members are each given their moment to shine, and every single one of them makes the most of their moment in the spotlight.
Haws opened the show with a great rendition of Pharrell Williams’ Happy, and her stunning voice continued to shine throughout the night, in particular with a fantastic version of I Won’t Say (I’m In Love) from Disney flick Hercules – with brilliant back-up from the pigs – and a great duet of Frozen’s Love Is An Open Door with the suitably-dashing Brown.
Spencer had everyone in fits of giggles with his performances of Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass, accompanied by Sullivan, and Pitbull and Ke$ha’s Timber, alongside Richardson.
Hamilton and Birkett are a deliciously evil duo. Hamilton is more regularly seen as the panto hero, but he clearly relished his wicked makeover. The pair gave a fantastic rendition of Queen’s It’s A Kind Of Magic, and Birkett shone as she belted out Let It Go, from Frozen, as youngsters in the audience sang along.
The pigs are a fantastic trio. The actors looked amazing and the kids in the audience loved them. Richardson and Sullivan – seen last year as Cinderella’s Ugly Sisters – inject lots of humour into the rib-tickling panto.
The show itself is absolutely stunning, with costumes and sets designed by Paul Shriek and Matt Fox. From the suited-and-booted wolf, to Bracken’s skyscraper heels, and the pig’s little snouts, to Red’s signature hooded cape – every single cast member looked amazing.
The set was just as impressive, and watch out for a surprise ‘cameo appearance’ by South Shields’ very own Mr Gay World, Stuart Hatton.
The show, of course, ends with a duelling sing-along and a Christmas medley, that got everyone well and truly in the Christmas spirit.
It may not have the budget of some of the other pantos in the region, but they don’t have the heart of this one.
Make sure you head to the Customs House this Christmas – and tell everyone you know, too.
Little Red Riding Hood runs until January 10, next year. Tickets cost from £9. To book, go to www.customshouse.co.uk or call the box office on 454 1234.