Theatre review: Beauty and the Beast, Byre Theatre, St Andrews

The Last Petal has fallen, the Beast is dying, and Kirsty Findlay's admirably outspoken Belle - having finally realised she loves the Beast - is weeping over what seems to be his lifeless body. 'I got here too late,' she cries; but you know there's something slightly wrong, in your panto world, when you feel an overwhelming urge to leap from your seat and remind her that she might have arrived on time, if she hadn't spent five minutes singing a glitzy farewell version of Ain't No Mountain High Enough with her mother, Dame Bunty, before she set off.

Beauty & The Beast at the Byre Theatre PIC: Viktoria Begg

Beauty and the Beast, Byre Theatre, St Andrews ***

On the great panto spectrum between almost-serious drama and pure camp send-up, Gordon Barr’s annual Bard In The Botanics panto for the Byre Theatre in St Andrews always tends towards the camp-as-Christmas end; and this year, in Barr’s own version of Beauty And The Beast, the story all but falls apart under the sheer pressure of glittering showbiz numbers, wildly suggestive jokes, and sceptical re-engineering of the original fairytale.

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It’s not that there’s no family fun around in Barr’s panto, of course. The use of the three youth-theatre casts who play a vital role in the narrative is brilliant and often hilarious, the choreography by wicked witch Stephanie McGregor is exhilarating, and the show often looks beautiful, in Carys Hobbs’s 21st-century-edged traditional design.

Yet although both Alan Steele’s outrageous Dame Bunty and Robert Elkin’s footman-narrator Valentine strike up a robust relationship with the audience, both performances are so self-referential, and so far over the top, that they sometimes threaten to suffocate the story completely; and to transform the whole panto experience into a cheeky grown-up cabaret, with a touch of good-natured children’s entertainment thrown in, just for Christmas.

Until 31 December