He's already got the MBE. Now, at last, Ray Spencer has been made a dame.
The executive director of the Customs House (and, of course, Tommy the Trumpeter) has long been the driving force behind the venue’s joyous pantomimes.
This year he’s co-writer, director and, for the first time, dame. “Bob Stott’s is a big bra to fill,” he remarks in the programme notes, “but I’ll do my bestest.”
And, of course, it’s a great “bestest”. But this isn’t by any means a one-woman show. “The little panto with the big heart”, as the much-loved Customs House fixture likes to bill itself, is blessed with an outstanding cast with not a weak point in sight.
Craig Richardson steps into Spencer’s old berth of panto pillock and does so with style.
Natasha Haws’ confident singing ensures there is no weakness in the central role.
Jamie Birkett has great fun as the villainness, while Jamie Brown’s turn as an earnest but very slightly clueless prince put me rather in mind of a young Prince Charles.
Stephen R Sullivan, Gareth Hunter, Kylie Ann Ford, Steven Lee Hamilton and Luke Maddison round out the main cast.
They were all great, but I’d have to single out young Maddison, who graduated from Newcastle College just a couple of years ago but who looks like a real comic talent.
Occasionally, amid the songs and silliness, there was the odd bit of plot. Nothing that made much sense, but who cares? The three little pigs were shoe-horned into the story just to give Spencer and co-writer Graeme Thompson the chance to air every pig, ham, bacon and pork pun they could think of. There was even the odd one you may not have heard before.
A few of them were just a little bit fruity but they sailed straight over the kiddies’ heads and landed, to guffaws, among the adults.
There was the occasional flat moment in the first half (usually coinciding with a bit of explanation of that pesky plot) but after the interval it was a rollicking ride.
“Granny’s tired now,” said Spencer, as he brought the final curtain sing-song to a close. “Only 66 more chances to catch this, you know.”
Just make sure you do.