With the general election looming, writer-director Steve Marmion promised to “go lightly on the politics” in his new pantomime. A wise decision, given the fractious national mood. Instead, Marmion’s fifth panto in a row at the Oxford Playhouse turned out to be a song-packed feast of fun, with a tremendously energetic cast cranking the momentum up to a furious pace.
In place of topicality, Marmion dribbles a few classics through the show. Some nifty shadow play sets the scene at the beginning of each half, and the Beast – when he appears – is a Gruffalo-style giant puppet on stilts, with a detachable claw that shoots in and out of the early scenes. There’s a clever bit involving the Beast’s flaming red eyes just as the curtain falls for the interval – “mildly terrifying”, according to my nine-year-old.
Much more up her street was the way Belle (Roseanna Frascona) was self-assertive and empowered – very much in the modern Disney mode – even suggesting to the prince (Matthew Staite) that she might prefer him in monster form. Brian the Orangutan (Ricky Oakley) and the mayor-turned-fox (Adrianna Bertola) also got the children in the audience on side – especially judging by the pair of kids hauled up on stage for a little friendly melon racing. Philip Pellew’s teapot-shaped Dame had the youngsters giggling, and gothic sorceress Witch Kardashia (Dev Joshi) induced a shock or two in the little ’uns.
Best of all, perhaps, was the infectious song and dance that formed the bulk of the show: 80s classics such as Toto’s Africa and Katrina and the Waves’s Walking on Sunshine did a lot of the work, but the presence of Iggy Pop was a bit of a leftfield surprise. By the end, the nine-year-old was jigging and clapping with reckless abandon, which is the ultimate tribute.
• At the Oxford Playhouse until 12 January.