The Customs House, South Shields

WRITERS Ray Spencer and Graeme Thompson knew they had a challenge when writing this year’s Customs House panto. How would they deliver their usual inspired nonsense with a Davey Hopper-shaped hole in the cast?

After eight entertaining years playing Dame Bella’s idiot son Arbuthnot, Davey was lured across the Channel to star in The Lion King at Disneyland Paris. But the legions of Customs House panto fans in South Shields can rest assured – the fun continues and a super cast delivers a Christmas cracker of a show.

Aladdin is set in Cooksonville where our titular hero (Dexter Greenwood) is persuaded by wicked Abanazar (the brilliant Steven Lee Hamilton) to use the open sesame password to gain access to a cave of untold riches – and a magical lamp. A genie (Misha Malcolm) grants Aladdin three wishes, but will this and a budding relationship with Princess Amira (Reanna Sujeewon) lead to a happy ever after ending?

The Northern Echo: Aladdin at The Customs House

Alfie Joey (Emperor Saveloy the Dipper) adds plenty of laughs, and there’s a sparkling performance from the flexible Shelley Nicholson, who is excellent as the Spirit of the Ring. The daft duo of Kieron Michaels (Meatballs) and Caitlin Fairlamb (Spaghetti) also provide lots of giggles and guffaws. At the heart of the show for many years was the dynamic between legendary panto performer Ray Spencer (Dame Bella Twankey Ballcock) and his sidekick Davey Hopper. The question audiences were wondering was if Davey’s replacement, Glen Richard Townsend (Cousin Dennis), was able to fill his size ten shoes?

The answer is yes... oh yes he is!

Glen shows huge promise as Den, and works extremely well with Ray and the rest of the cast. His delivery is impressive, his timing spot on and he has a fine singing voice. The slop scene set in Bella’s Laundry, with Den at the fore, is a hoot.

The Northern Echo: Aladdin at The Customs House 
Photos Wycombe 89

While it’s great to see the impact from a new performer, it’s old hands Steven and Ray who really shine. Last year I said there wouldn’t be a better panto villain performing across the region than Steven – the same is true this year. He is awesome as Abanazar, his stunning voice and a clipped, sardonic delivery perfect for the role.

Natural-born entertainer Ray, meanwhile, is at the centre of everything. The twinkle in his eye shines brighter as the years go by, the asides get funnier, and the audiences love him more.

Among the many ingredients of success for Aladdin are the costumes and the special effects – the flying carpet in particular wows the audience – and the script is sharp, sassy and very, very funny.

Recommended reading:

Get more exclusive  reviews from The Northern Echo with a digital subscription for just £4 for four months for a limited time only. Click here for details.

There are some great songs too, with my particular favourites Hello from Book of Mormon and Steven singing Britney Spears’ hit Oops… I Did It Again. Dave Bintley and Jen Stevens deliver their usual musical magic while the young dancers from South Tyneside Dance Workshop provide plenty of colour, energy and vibrancy.

There will be bigger, far more expensively-produced pantos being performed across the region over the next month or so, but I doubt any will be better than Aladdin.

Aladdin is at The Customs House, South Shields, until January 6. Tickets are available from or by ringing the box office on 0191 4541234.

Rob Lawson