Great performance and community spirit at the Customs House, South Shields

Socially distanced theatre at the Customs House, South Shields
Photo by Yvonne Wancke
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There is that excited buzz that you always get in a theatre before a show. La vie en Rose plays on the sound system which seems strangely appropriate and people settle into their seats to enjoy the show.

The difference tonight is that the seating is very spread out: one or two people and then a gap, and every other row is blocked out.

I guess it means that the theatre is operating at about a third of its capacity.

There are arrows on the floor and a clear system of moving around. It is all very well organised and good humoured.

A presentation on a screen at the front tells you to wear a face mask and how to order drinks at your seat. I give that a try. Novel really.

I have been to the Customs House many times. It is one of my favourite venues in the North East.

The show tonight is a thank you variety show: thank you to the NHS, to key workers and to the whole of the local community for all their contributions during Covid-19 and lockdown. It is the first time the theatre has been open for many months.

The show poster
Customs House

I feel excited and privileged to be here. I was lucky to get a ticket.

And now to enjoy the performance. My wine has arrived: red for the theatre.

The show begins with Rainbow Connection, sung by Wor Vera. It is an emotional opening, beautifully sung with lovely images of local scenes, children and rainbows. Joyous.

The show is compered by the inestimable Davey Hopper, aided and abetted by Ray Spencer. Their repartee is impeccable.

The show includes excellent performances by South Tyneside Dance Workshop, Steffen Peddle, comedian and radio star and Tony Wilson, singer and guitarist. I especially enjoy his rendition of Cushie Butterfield. What a lovely voice! The interesting thing here was that, unlike in the past, we are encouraged not to sing! A sign of the times. We are allowed to clap along to the music.

We are treated to the silky tones of Bethan Amber singing Will you still love me tomorrow. Gorgeous. I am struck by Ray Spencer reminding us that we are blessed with so much talent in South Tyneside. It is true. So much talent and so much hard work and effort.

Next up is Boyle yer stotts who include a version of their radio play from lockdown days. It’s about theatre ghosts and how theatres leave on a light when they go ‘dark’. A ghost light. It is funny and sad. Bittersweet. The final line is ‘We’re all in grave danger.’

The singing group, Encore, is next. They regularly perform at the Customs House. And what a treat as they sing a socially distanced version of Fascinating Aida’s Cheap Flights. Brilliant and hilarious.

Jen Stevens is a singer, pianist and recording artist. She includes a piece from her new album, Little One. which is simply beautiful. The spirit of theatre, the arts and resilience really does live on here in South Tyneside and beyond.

The evening also features a magic act, brought to us by Graham Shaw. He responds and adapts to the new normal in which he can’t go into the audience or get the audience onstage. He is highly entertaining.

Darren Linton sings one of my favourites, Mack the Knife and then introduces his next song as “if I could only sing one song it would be….” before going on to perform a lovely version of Music of the Night. Beautiful. It is a very special evening.

During lockdown in South Shields, a young girl called April wrote some new words to Elton John’s Your Song and recorded it to Youtube. She is here tonight singing at the Customs House to a standing ovation. Well done, April.

The last act is announced. It is Zac Hamilton, who trained in a local stage school and has recently performed in the touring Les Miserables. He ends the show with the wonderful Bring him Home.

A fantastic evening of great performance and community spirit at the Customs House, South Shields. I look forward to more.

The show was sponsored by South Shields fish restaurant, Colmans.

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