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Beauty and the Beast review at Customs House, South Shields – ‘strong contender for this year’s best-dressed panto’

Charlie Raine, Ray Spencer and David Hopper in Beauty and the Beast at Custom House, South Shields. Charlie Raine, Ray Spencer and David Hopper in Beauty and the Beast at Custom House, South Shields. Photo: John Short

In recent years, the Customs House panto has been dominated by the double act of artistic director Ray Spencer in the role of the dame and David John Hopper as the dim-witted Arbuthnot. This year’s Beauty and the Beast continues with this winning formula with both of them doing what they do best; Spencer’s Dame Bella Ballcock entertains the adults with end-of-the pier gags and Brexit jokes, while Hopper keeps the children happy by falling over a lot.

But while in the past the pair have sometimes overshadowed the rest of the cast, this year’s panto feels more of an ensemble affair with other performers given the opportunity to showcase their talents. Annie Guy as Beauty shines in the musical numbers – a cannily chosen jukebox selection of The Greatest Showman and Queen – and displays more vim than you normally see in principal girls. Eleanor Chaganis also brings gusto to her role as the Enchantress who steers Beauty into the clutches of the Beast.

The Customs House might not have the budget for big thrills and special effects but fortunately it can afford design duo Paul Shriek and Matt Fox. Their intricate rose-themed set is a thing of beauty and is wonderfully complemented by their sharply cut, sumptuous costumes.


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A strong contender for this year’s best-dressed panto