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South Tyneside Guide – The Customs House

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The Customs House Free South Tyneside Visitor Guide 2017

Accustomed To Excellence

The Customs House is the jewel in South Tyneside’s cultural crown: an award-winning hotbed of original writing, home to the South Tyneside Comedy Festival and an unrivalled pantomime.

Jason Cook can remember the first time he set foot in The Customs House, South Shields’ cultural hub. “It was the panto,” he recalls. “The Customs House panto is a tradition harder-forged than Christmas Day itself – you can quote me on that.” The pantomime kindled an admiration of the venue that remains today.

Seating 441 people in its main theatre, 140 in a studio/cinema, and with a gallery, multiple bars, an in-house restaurant, a private dining room and a suite for events, the venue holds a special place in the heart of many in the region.

Open 363 days of the year, The Customs House first opened in November 1994, giving culture in South Tyneside a shot in the arm. Ending a long spell without a theatre or cinema in the area, the Grade II listed building — formerly a customs post, built in the 1860’s to support the commercial shipping industry in the area — has become a jewel in the crown of South Tyneside. “Not only did it provide a new cultural home, it also presented a piece of South Shields heritage which was falling into decline” explains Ray Spencer, The Customs House’s Executive Director.

Among its finest offerings is their pantomime. The Christmastime extravaganza for 2017 will celebrate 150 years of The Lambton Worm folk song, telling the tale of the legend around John Lambton’s battle to vanquish the enormous worm that was terrorising the local villages. Running from 28th November – 6th January and with a cast including Ray, David John Hopper and Cal Halbert, it promises to be hilarious and original.

It’s not just in the grand old tradition of pantomime where The Customs House excels, though. The venue is also a hotbed for new, undiscovered theatre, promoting the most exciting new writers. For example, from 22nd – 26th August End of the Pier, the tale of a couple who perform in music hall theatres, takes over The Customs House.

The theatre also plays host to bigger, bolder performances, be they touring or local productions, including midsummer productions of Cinderella (20th – 22nd July), Beauty & The Beast (26th – 27th July) and The Nutcracker (7th November).

The Customs House stage is a unique place, and it’s well-suited to comedy. “It’s an incredible stage for comedy, the perfect room,” says Jason. “When people laugh, it sounds deafening; it’s bigger than you’re expecting.” As well as Jason’s monthly Comedy Club, featuring acts handpicked from the best up-and-coming acts across the UK. Jason’s bringing the South Tyneside Comedy Festival back to The Customs House for a second year.

The venue is a hotbed for new, undiscovered theatre

“I’ve done 63 comedy festivals across the world, and have taken all the best bits from what 1 think are the best festivals,” he explains. Among the names already announced for the festival, which runs from 1st July – 6th August, are Rory Bremner, Chris Ramsey and Sarah Millican. “I hate comedy festivals when it’s just a boring list of people you’ve never heard of,” says Jason. Few shows cost more than £10, to ensure as broad an audience as possible can enjoy the world-class comedians descending on South Tyneside.

Sitting comedy alongside top theatre, music and cinema is all part of The Customs House’s charm. It’s also why the venue has remained so treasured by both locals and visitors to South Tyneside: a place open throughout the year, offering a variety of events, exhibitions and performances that can make you laugh, make you cry — and make some memories along the way.

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