On my recent visit to Beauty and the Beast, this year’s Oxford Playhouse pantomime, for my annual dancing-in-the-aisles-while-singing-along treat, while enthusiastically shouting out the traditional responses, I was struck by the thought ‘How many years have I been doing this?’

A quick check in my box of old theatre programs revealed that it was a quarter of a century ago that I first took my daughters along there to see Cinderella.

Of course, they are too grown up for this now – but I am obviously not! As it seems such a central part of Oxford’s Christmas tradition I thought that the Playhouse had been putting on these excellent Christmas productions since time immemorial - but when I looked into this it transpired that before 1992 the Panto crown was actually worn by the New Theatre, who staged a very different style of show featuring celeb appearances, soap stars, and other such razzmatazz.

For many years it was a struggle for the Playhouse to compete against its larger neighbour in the ‘panto wars’.

In 1934 the Playhouse’s Toad of Toad Hall was up against Aladdin at the New Theatre and lost out heavily to them in box office sales.

But nevertheless, the company were game enough to give it another go – and in 1936 and presented Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

In the early decades of the Playhouse’s residence in Beaumont Street they could not afford to sustain such heavy losses on a regular basis.

Oxford Mail:

The scene changed, however, with a shift in the theatregoing public’s tastes. Seeing a fall in revenue year on year, in 1993 the New Theatre switched to presenting musicals rather than their pantomime at Christmas.

Great news for the Playhouse who had co-incidentally decided to stage Cinderella for that Christmas season, a production which rewarded them with considerable artistic and financial success. A happy outcome which has been followed up year on year since.

Alongside the successes of the annual Christmas pantomimes in the big auditorium the innovative use of the smaller Burton Taylor Theatre to produce shows for the very young has been a significant achievement.

Productions such as Dear Father Christmas, Cerrie Burnell’s Snowflakes, Alby the Penguin Saves Christmas, and this year’s wonderful The Jolly Christmas Postman have made many under 6 year olds’ Christmases very special indeed.

Oxford Mail:

Since that original Cinderella all those years ago the Oxford Playhouse has continued to delight with their charming, beautiful and fun homegrown traditional productions, such as Michele Hardy’s Aladdin, and Mother Goose (my personal all-time favourite), Peter Duncan’s Sleeping Beauty, Steve Marmion’s Dick Whittington, John Doyle and Sarah Travis’s, magical Peter Pan, and many more. Long may they continue delighting us with their particularly Oxford brand of Christmas magic.

Beauty and the Beast is running until 12 January at the Oxford Playhouse.