For several years, the Oxford Playhouse Pantomime has been a staple Christmas treat for three generations of the Taylor family. This year’s outing to see Peter Duncan’s Dick Whittington has put a very glittery and joyful festive bauble on the top of this year’s tree: full of humour, song and dance, and livened up by moments of heart-in-mouth tension.

This Playhouse production doesn’t have to create a story around a soap star or superannuated pop singer; rather the creative team let the story, the traditions of panto and the highly skilled and entertaining performers come together to put on an excellent show.

Three performers really stood out this year. This year’s Dame - Doris Doughnut - is played with enormous gusto by Leon Craig; she gets down amongst the audience (those of you with expensive dry cleaning habits should probably avoid the front seats), and brings the show to life. Reuben Kaye is clearly having the time of his life as a thoroughly evil King Rat, snarling and grimacing his way through the show, whilst Tori Moone makes for a very slinky cat, full of feline grace and daring. Indeed, Ms Moone (who played the part of Mary Poppins at this year’s Olympic ceremony), produces some of the highlights of this show, ascending and descending the set with alarming frequency. The rest of the cast – including a handsome Dick (Ashley Emerson), a charming Alice (Laurie Scarth) and a positively oleaginous Alderman (Richard Kidd) to much to fill the performance with warmth and humour.

This year’s music and dance is the best that we’ve ever seen at a Playhouse Panto. Choreographer Grace Harrington’s work truly comes into its own as our gang of heros, heroines and anti-heros drop into visit a musical-obsessed dictator, a pantomime villain positioned halfway between Colonel Gaddafi and a wannabe stage star. The Arab Spring makes Panto? You better believe it, and if the post-interval plot jumps mysteriously from peril to pat conclusion, then that’s the only weakness – and who remembers the plot of panto anyway?

Particular congratulations must go to writer and director, Peter Duncan, for crafting jokes that make young and old, prudish and bawdy, laugh together in a show to end 2012 on a comic triumph of theatrical spectacle.

Mike Taylor