* We were invited to the press evening at Beauty and the Beast - our tickets were complimentary in return for sharing a our thoughts about the show*
This is our second year at Customs House house panto. Last year we bought tickets to their New Year’s Eve showing as we’d heard such great things about it. Both years we’ve really enjoyed it. Its a proper classic show, the bits we love most about Pantomimes done very well.
This year’s show is Beauty and the Beast, and it made a really nice change to be heading to a panto to see a show we’d never seen live before. The story loosely follows the Disney classic that we know and love, but with a fair few plot points taken out and replaced with panto slapstick. There were loads of songs, (including four from The Greatest Showman), laughs and warmth. The theatre is small with comfortable seats and due to the layout you are pretty much guaranteed a good view from wherever you sit.
It was a really good show. Very funny, with nearly everything that we were looking for in a panto. The panto dame, and one of the writers, Ray Spencer is brilliant. He is so comfortable on the stage, his off the cuff one liners got some of the biggest laughs of the night. There were a fair few innuendos and political jokes aimed at the grown ups in the audience and most were delivered by him. He also had the best costumes - some of them were hilarious.
Arbuthnot was my niece and nephew’s favourite and it’s so easy to see why. He has a touch of the ‘Mr Tumble’ about him and was responsible for a lot of the silliness and physical humour. He starred in one of the stand out messy scenes, where both Arbuthnot and the panto dame make slipping and sliding on ‘cake mixture’ into a work of art.
Last year I’d thought the show was aimed towards a slightly older audience than my 4 and 3 year old, so this year took along my nephew who is 13 and niece who is almost 7. The show is made up of a real ensemble cast, with nine biggish characters. This meant that lots of the first half of the show was taken up introducing each one, and most got their own song, so it was very music heavy. I thought it made it a bit difficult to get into the story before the interval and hate to say it, but think it might be better to have slightly less characters to get to know.
We loved Cutlet the lamb, a magical lamb who could talk, and signed her way through the show including the songs she was in. I thought it was brilliant to have one of the main characters using sign language. We were less of a fan of the Gaviscon (brilliant name though) the panto villain who played the part of Gaston from the film. Gaviscon’s part wasn’t as big as I like for a panto villain and he didn’t have many jokes. We were happy to Boo along, but the panto villain was one of the few things I think that this panto could improve on.
I usually find that my favourite bits of panto are found in the second half, and for me Beauty and the Beast really picked up momentum after the interval. The ‘Its behind you’ scene was excellent. Perfect slapstick comedy and it was paired with the best costumes of the night (I don’t want to spoil it too much, but it coincided with some of the characters turning into furniture). There was an elaborate song and dance routine which had our party in stitches. We also adored the audience sing along. It included one side of the audience against the other, and the rivalry really added to the umph which the audience gave when singing along. All of the staff from Customs House come out, with flashy lights and Christmas jumpers to sing and dance to the singalong, and it had a lovely warm family atmosphere. They call Custom’s House ‘The Little Panto with the Big Heart’ and it definitely lived up to it’s name.
The songs were good, and there were a lot to listen to. My fave by far were the Greatest Showman Songs. For some reason it just feels socially acceptable to sing along in public whenever I hear them, in a way I wouldn’t dream it if was other songs. I counted four songs from The Greatest Showman. There was only one song from Beauty and The Beast - so if you have any die hard fans of the film it might be worthwhile preparing them for that. There were also a couple of songs I didn’t recognise, which my nephew told me were recent top tens (so I felt old and out of touch for not knowing them). At the end of the panto there was a megamix of Christmas Songs and even some snow falling which made for a really special and festive ending.
Customs House gets huge brownie points from me for the great part the women of the cast played. So often I leave a panto moaning that female characters miss out on the humour and best scenes, but I never feel that way at Customs House. They get a piece of all of the best action here. Beauty (aside from being an excellent singer and dancer) was sassy, funny and brave. She didn’t need saving and actually did some saving of her own. Cutlet the (girl) lamb had some really funny lines, and the Beast’s maid delivered lots of innuendo and was part of the best slapstick scenes.
Custom’s House theatre
Custom’s House theatre has a great layout. It’s small so no matter where you sit you have a good view. We were the second seat from the back in the stalls and as you can see from below we were still close to the stage. The rows had steps between them so we felt quite a bit higher than the row in front, and my niece could see over the heads of the adults in front of her with no problem. The leg room is good so people can squeeze past without you standing up. If you are taking smaller kids then check out the last row of the stalls, the leg room there was even better which would give them the room to stand up if they needed to stretch their legs.
There is free parking outside of Customs House too which is great. We arrived later than I had intended to at dead on 6:30 - the time it was due to start, and thankfully there were still a good few parking spaces available.
Scores on the panto doors
Overall our group decided we’d give this panto 8 out of 10. The first half was a bit too music heavy for us, but the second half was absolutely brilliant and had us laughing, singing and shouting as hard as we could.
I would definitely recommend it, but more for slightly older children (6+) and families with kids of varying ages, rather than if you’re looking specifically for a first panto for younger kids. I’d particularly recommend this panto for multi-generational families as the grown up jokes and confidence on stage meant there was something for everyone.
It’s a mega popular show so the tickets have sold really well, with a lot of dates with just a couple of spaces free. There seems to be a bigger choice of seats after Christmas and particularly in January.
Tickets are available from here
Ticket prices range between £11-£18.50.