THERE ain’t nothing like a dame – as visitors to a new North East exhibition are set to discover.

This year, The Customs House Christmas panto, at South Shields, is celebrating its silver anniversary – oh, yes it is!

And, to mark the occasion, a free exhibition looking back at ‘the little panto with the big heart,’ will open at The Word, National Centre for the Written Word.

The Customs House Exhibition, which will open on 28 September and run until 5 January 2020, will trace the history of panto at The Customs House over the past 25 years.

Along with fascinating facts about the shows, performers, costumes and sets, visitors will be able to learn about panto traditions and the various backstage roles, such as

lighting, sound and production, which make The Customs House panto so popular.

A popular character in every Customs House panto– regardless of the show – is Arbuthnot, who accompanies panto veteran Ray Spencer’s character, Dame Bella.

And visitors who post their favourite joke in a special letter box at the exhibition, may find it is selected and read out as part of this year’s panto, Snow White.

In keeping with the theme of Snow White, there will be a mirror on the wall for visitors to get selfies, while a video of Sign Support Language expert, Charlie Raine, will show how the stories on stage are conveyed to people who are deaf and hearing impaired.

Charlie signed throughout the pantomime last year as Cutlet the signing sheep where she won Best Pantomime Animal at The Great British Panto Awards. Her video will teach visitors some sign language panto catchphrases and a song.

Tania Robinson, Head of Culture at The Word, National Centre for the Written Word, said she is “delighted” to be paying tribute to “our next door neighbour.

“We may be a national facility, but we are a South Shields venue through and through and it’s great to be working hand in hand with The Customs House on this fascinating exhibition,” she said.

“Their panto really does have the biggest heart – and that is why it has such a huge following and attracts such superb performers and artists.

“The quality of everything, from the scripts to the costumes, is always superb and if this exhibition doesn’t get visitors into the Christmas spirit nothing will.”

Ray Spencer, Executive Director of The Customs House, said: “We are excited to have this opportunity to join with The Word to celebrate 25 years of The Customs House panto.

“We hope this exhibition will give our loyal fans and people who are new to our panto a chance to understand the background to how our biggest show of the year gets from page to stage.”

The Customs House Exhibition, which is free, opens at The Word on 28 September and will run until 5 January 2020.

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