Review: Arbuthnot and the Beanstalk at The Customs House

Review: Arbuthnot and the Beanstalk at The Customs House

Arbuthnot and the Beanstalk – Customs House, South Shields

14th April 2023

Another new venue for this reviewer this evening as I was thoroughly entertained by The Customs House Easter pantomime in South Shields and it was an absolute joy from the opening number to the party feel to the end of the show. This pantomime has everything, including a wonderful cow called Caroline (a reference to my favourite musical Gypsy which was not lost on me.)

There is so much talent on this stage that I may struggle to mention everyone involved so please consider this blanket praise for everyone concerned with this brilliant production. 

As Fairy Peanut (Lucy Davis) takes to the stage, she promises us an evening of magic and she is not telling fibs in her beautiful Scottish brogue. She also has a set of lungs on her that any operatic soprano would be immensely proud of. She gives way to the magnificent Tom Whalley as the dastardly Fleshcreep who is no stranger to pantomime in the North East. He channels his inner child-catcher to bring this menacing character to life. The thing that always amazes me about Tom’s performances is his abundance of energy. He is almost exhausting to watch. The way he contorts his body is truly mesmerising and he never lets up from his first appearance through to the finale. 

There are some brilliant characters in this pantomime including the traditional Dame Trott, played with exquisite skill by Kieron Michael. He balances the sarcastic nature of the role with a delightfully maternal feel which is required as Jack’s mother. Jack, himself, played by Aiden Nord is every bit the handsome principal boy who sets many a heart aflutter. Nord’s dancing and singing is very accomplished for such a young performer and I have no doubt that he has a very bright future ahead of him. 

Arbuthnot is, of course, played by the immensely talented Davey Hopper who oozes class in the traditional funny man with the unrequited love of Beth Clarke’s beautiful Jill, the mayor’s daughter. David McCarthy playing her dad, the mayor adopts the dodgiest Spanish accent you have ever heard but this only adds to the comedy and makes for a much more interesting part than other pantomimes I have seen.

People who have read my reviews of pantomime will know that I often complain about the endings which often seem a little rushed and convenient. Not so with this production where there is a beautifully choreographed and sung medley headlined by Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance which is a joy to watch. The fight scene at the end between Jack and Fleshcreep also must be seen to be appreciated. 

The set, costumes (Eleanor Chaganis) and the lighting (John Rainsforth) and sound (Cameron Turnbull) are all suitably in-keeping with the pantomime feel with heavy use of reds and greens of which any lighting designer would be rightly proud. I particularly liked the beanstalk, but I will not talk too much about that because it would spoil the effect. The cow and other animals are particularly well done.

I was delighted to meet most of the cast after the production and it is clear to see that they are thoroughly enjoying their work and make a wonderfully close-knit team. I did meet the back end of the cow played by Harvey Johnson, and the young man is loving his work. Bravo to you!

You only have a few more performances to see this maiden pantomime outside of the traditional pantomime season at Christmas and I really encourage you to get along for this Easter production which is fun for the whole family and offers something for absolutely everyone – even this old reviewer who left the theatre with a cheesy grin on his face from witnessing a job extremely well done. 

Arbuthnot and the Beanstalk plays at Customs House, South Shields until Sunday 16th April (Please note that Tom Whalley will not be appearing at the performance on Sunday.)

– Stephen Stokoe

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