True to its long-established form Oxford Playhouse is ensuring a merrier Christmas for all with a cheery and charming, massively musical pantomime, Beauty and the Beast.

Not traditionally a panto staple, like Cinderella, Dick Whittington or Aladdin, this heart-warming story is now high in the popularity stakes.

It is interesting to note that besides the Playhouse’s inspired take on the tale, there’s another production just opened at Aylesbury’s Waterside Theatre.

Its current popularity can no doubt be accounted for in part by the success of of Walt Disney’s 2017 live-action remake of its seminal 1991 Oscar-nominated animated version. More important, perhaps, is its status as almost a textbook study in female empowerment – a tract for our times, as it were.

At the Playhouse the production is in the confident control – it’s his fifth year at the job – of the writer and director Steve Marmion.

The political slant he brought to shows in the past has been avoided this time. But as Steve tells us in a programme note: “We have remained loyal to the Great British Pantomime traditions of justice, gender fluidity, equality, feminism, diversity and downright stupidity.”

The tale he tells is very much one of his own devising and one which at times demands some concentration to follow through its twists and turns.

At its heart, though, is the story of a handsome prince (Matthew Staite) transformed into a hideous beast by an evil witch – she’s called Kardashia here (geddit?), and played by Dev Joshi – and then restored to good looks through the love of a loyal woman.

As winningly portrayed here by Roseanna Frascona, Beauty – Belle Beauty Brightside, to give her full monicker – is definitely not one to judge by external appearances.

As the prince emerges from within the massive – and I hope not too frightening for the wee ones – beast puppet, she tells him: “I think I preferred you before.”

But this has taken us to the end. For the start, we are in the capable hands – this should be paws – of Brian the Orangutan (Ricky Oakley) as he fills in the back story to the stirring tune of Toto’s Africa

It is a rare wonder that much, if not quite all, of the marvellous music in the show is, for once, recognised by your reviewer, including a couple of great Iggy Pop numbers (Lust for Life and The Passenger) and Delilah.

These are sensationally performed by the three-strong band under musical director Bobby Goulder. It helps hugely that the cast are all fine singers, and especially Adrianna Bertola (Fox), Paul Biggin (Gardener) and Ed Kingsley (Slick Rick, Kardashia’s sidekick).

Though I found the Dame’s transformation into a teapot (she’s called Dame Potts) a trifle hard to understand, there’s no denying the talent of the guy playing her. Philip Pellew sashayed into the role on the very day of opening (owing to the original actor’s illness) and is doing brilliantly.

Until January 12. Box office: 01865 305305, 5/5