The Customs House

The Customs House


Posted 2013-07-29 by Margaret Watersfollow
Situated at the Mill Dam on the banks of the River Tyne in South Shields, the Customs House has been the hub of the Arts and Culture scene in South Tyneside for the past three decades.

Over the years, has provided an introduction to live theatre and inspiration for thousands of local children with their much loved annual Christmas Pantomimes, which are sponsored by north east firm Hays Travel . Kids have grown up with 'Tommy' and his pantomime mother, 'Dame Dotty', played by local actors Ray Spencer MBE (who is also Director of the theatre) and Bob Stott. (who retired from the role at the end of last winter's panto run).

But the Customs House is more than just a once a year thing. Apart from having a thriving theatre at its heart, it also has a modern cinema, art gallery, conference/function room and the 'Green Room' bar/restaurant. So, whatever the occasion, the Customs House can accommodate events such as business conferences, weddings, award ceremonies and more.

The breadth of all that they do is beyond the scope of this piece, but here are a few to whet your appetite.

Cinema shows at the venue include the latest Hollywood blockbusters alongside more sedate ventures such as 'Lunchtime Liaisons', where senior citizens can watch a film for a few pounds or combine the film with a pre-show lunch in the 'Green Room' for just £8.95. Everything from Bollywood to British classics has been on the movie menu and these afternoon specials have become firm favourites with locals and visitors. Just contact the Box Office on 0191 4541234 for tickets and further information.

If you prefer evening shows, tables at the 'Green Room' can also be reserved, 0191 427 3737 so why not plan your evening out and enjoy a pre-show meal too?

Encouraging young people's groups to express themselves in their chosen fields such as theatre, dance and musical performances is a prime function of the Customs House, with many local schools, colleges and youth groups using the venue to showcase their talents.

A friend and I have just been to see 'Miss Saigon' performed by students from 'Starset' #8206 ;">Your text goes here stage school. Set in Vietnam and based on Puccini's 'Madame Butterfly', I had no idea the storyline was so intense before I saw the show and the students, mostly in their late teens, delivered a fine performance with beautiful singing voices and some very complicated scenes; it definitely provided food for thought and demonstrated the wonderful opportunity available for young people learning their craft.

Summer theatre school is proving to be a big hit with local youngsters and last year we saw a fantastic production of the Lionel Bart musical 'Oliver' based on Charles Dickens' classic tale, with young people from actor David Ducasse's 'Performers' Your text goes here theatre school taking the lead. The quality of these young performers is already shining through.

Cultural group Hindu Nari Sangh also put on an annual performance, with Asian artists in sumptuous costumes from around the region performing traditional dances in a blend of professional and amateur appearances. A few years ago, I attended an excellent show from this group which included Indian dancing, a local multi-cultural choir and a group of Chinese students from Newcastle University performing a very colourful traditional dance routine with silk banners.

Many local dance groups, with children as young as three years old and those whose achievements have earned them places in prestigious ballet schools, also produce their own shows giving their students the opportunity to display their talents in a live performance, while G.C.S.E. and A-level students often have to produce a show as part of their formal examination.

In addition to this community activity, the Customs House theatre is a prime venue for professional artists, including local legends ' Lindisfarne '. The band, who date back to the 1970s and whose hits include 'Fog on the Tyne' and 'Meet me on the Corner' hadn't played together for some time but launched their new production 'The Lindisfarne Story' with some original members of the band and my husband and I went to see it in October 2012. Other members of our family also travelled up north to see the show, and it was well worth the effort. Superb.

Kathryn Tickell is another of my favourite musicians to have graced the stage at the Customs House. Internationally renowned for playing the Northumbrian Pipes, she has performed all over the world and has just announced exciting new performances alongside 'Sting' in New York on his new production 'The Last Ship', based on the demise of the ship-building industry in the Tyneside born superstar's native North East. Find out more here

The variety provided is a credit to the local arts venue, who are a registered charity and funded by Arts Council England and South Tyneside Council, along with other sponsorships, they also raise funds from ticket sales. The theatre has suffered government cut-backs in recent times and it's also a credit to the core staff, who keep the theatre running, that the venue has been able to continue to stage the diverse programme we all enjoy.

As if to underline the theatre's success, local 'X Factor' winners 'Little Mix' and 'Joe McElderry' spent much of their formative years at the venue and still pop in whenever they are in the area. I'm not sure if I was amused or embarrassed when my friend, who is a great-grandmother, saw Joe McElderry in the foyer one time while we were there, she was yelling 'Joe, Joe' like a teenager across the hall and asked for his autograph, which he happily obliged.

Both 'Little Mix' and 'Joe McElderry', along with 'McFly' and other supporting actswill be appearing at the 'South Tyneside Summer Festival 'Sound Waves' concert in Bents Park this August Bank Holiday. You can get your tickets in person at the Customs House or online at or call the Box Office on 0191 4541234. Cost is £20 per ticket.

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