Customs House
South Shields

The Customs House, for those of you yet to stroll across its cobbled car park, is one of those quaint theatres where actual plays by local writers are still regularly staged, to packed houses of loyal fans. Is Ray Spencer, its Executive Director (and also the star of the show) some form of genial warlock? However he’s done it, it certainly is magic.

This play is the first in a trilogy by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood, whose work is regularly staged here and whose Alf Ramsey Knew My Grandfather played at the Theatre Royal, Newcastle, among other venues earlier this year. Good to Firm first played in 2002 and is set around this time. Do you remember, children, when people could breezily mention the world wide web and fifty percent of the listeners thought it was about some international spider? Aah, happy times…

Good to Firm has a cast of four. We have bet-mad Bob (Ray Spencer, in top form) and his ultra non-glam wife of thirty years Shirley (a gorgeous performance by Angela Szalay). One of their oldest ‘friends’ is the slinky, kinky, Phil, a filly who’s a high-flying career girl. Quite what this lady would see in the three-furlongs-short-of-the-knackers-yard Bob is debatable, but artistic license aside, this is a firm favourite with the audience. Phillippa’s current steer is Yankee Toyboy Les played by Afnan Iftikhar who earned his Equity Card in this theatre a year ago. You can, perhaps imagine the fun to be had with ‘Les’ bearing in mind his girlfriend’s previous Sapphic adventuring and the cheeky disregard the writers hold for the PC police. This is about the twenty-nine year itch, growing old, getting porkier and how not to win at the gee-gees.

It all gallops along with masses of gags courtesy of the Waugh/Wood Stable. There appears to be no volume control on the sound desk, but then most of the audience had brought their own hearing aids, anyway. This may not be high art and the budget’s so tight that Bob and Shirley can only afford to furnish their living room with things that are mentioned in the script, but as a homegrown Derby ‘n’ Geordie Joan comedy with a soppy heart this is absolutely first past the post.