REVIEW: The Lambton Worm, Customs House, until January 6

Ray Spencer stars as Dame Bella Ballcock
Ray Spencer stars as Dame Bella Ballcock
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Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs, an Aa'll tell ye's aall a wonderful story...

Whisht! Lads, haad yor gobs, an' Aa'll tell ye 'boot the Lambton Worm at the Customs House.

Natasha Haws as Susie the Soothsayer and Georgia Nicholson as her evil sister Poison Pen

Natasha Haws as Susie the Soothsayer and Georgia Nicholson as her evil sister Poison Pen

The snow may have been falling heavily outside - but everyone attending this show certainly left with a warm feeling inside.

The seasonal songs and slapstick at the Mill Dam venue has become a firm festive family tradition on South Tyneside.

Not for nothing is it called 'The Little Panto with the Big Heart'. There may be other productions in bigger venues with bigger budgets, but pound-for-pound, Ray Spencer and the gang continue to deliver the best Christmas pantos you'll be fortunate enough to see.

This Christmas, it's a lighthearted retelling of that classic legend about that monstrous creature with 'greet big goggle eyes' that terrified the folk of the Wear. But the only screams we heard were ones of laughter from a full house that was treated to a riotous evening and a twist to the ending of the famous old yarn

Cast members for the Customs House panto, The Lambton Worm

Cast members for the Customs House panto, The Lambton Worm

Ray as Dame Bella Ballcock (and Paul Shriek surpasses himself every year with the extravagant costumes) is, of course, the matriarch of the show. It just wouldn't be Christmas without an elongated 'eeeeeeehh' from the Dame.

But it's a true team effort from the nine-strong cast who all play stellar roles. David John Hopper once again guarantees plenty laughs as the loveable, if hapless, Arbuthnot; Natasha Haws is absolutely charming as Susie the Soothsayer, while Georgia Nicholson vamps it up superbly as her evil sister Poison Pen.

Gareth Hunter (The Sultan), Cal Halbert (Lord Larry Lambton) and Lewis Jobson (Puddles the Dog) provide excellent back-up to the main characters, each adding to the spectacle.

And there's a real touch of class in the performances of the wonderfully-talented Steven Lee Hamilton, back this year as The Brave and Bold Sir John Lambton and Eleanor Chaganis as the exotic Princess Aneesa, particularly in their musical moments together.

Gareth Hunter, Ray Spencer and David John Hopper on stage

Gareth Hunter, Ray Spencer and David John Hopper on stage

The jokes come fast and furious - the panto hopes to deliver 'joy in bucketloads' and one decorating sketch does that alone - and the one-liners provide as much humour for older members of the audience as they do youngsters.

With stunning sets, energetic performances by members of South Tyneside Dance Workshop, audience singalongs and a classic Christmas medley to finish, once again the Customs House crew have delivered another knockout show.

The weather outside was frightful but this show is so delightful. There's no better place to go, than the Customs House panto.

* 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.

ISOBEL OLIVER