Review: Beauty And The Beast, Three Bears Productions, Grand Opera House, York, until January 7. Box office: 0844 871 3024 or at

YOU cannot buy publicity like Debbie McGee's leg-extended run in Strictly Come Dancing, all the way to that fabulous Argentine tango finale last Saturday.

Cameras have been snapping away as she spent days combining working on Strictly routines with Giovanni Pernice at York St John University with attending rehearsals for her second year in a row in the Grand Opera House pantomime.

Ever the game trouper, Debbie took to the Cumberland Street stage on Sunday, rested her voice through Monday daytime, and sounding understandably worn after all her exertions, she nevertheless determinedly made her way through Monday's press night. Albeit with somewhat rougher magic than usual in her twinkling, twinkle-toed guise as the good fairy Adorabella Angelpie.

As you would expect, there were Strictly references galore as Debbie "locked wands" with Home And Away soap star Lynne McGranger's Wizadora Crabapple, Adorabella's evil sorceress cousin. There was a lovely impromptu interchange between the two when Debbie fluffed a rhyme: one of those panto moments that audiences so love.

The voice holds up, the now trademark leg extension dance move is given an outing, and of course Debbie gets to dance, in shimmying red. Strictly entre nous, the show could make more of this gift-horse opportunity and maybe it will once Debbie settles in.

Three Bears Productions – writer Chris Moreno and his co-producers Russ Spencer and Stuart Wade, the show's director and soft lad – made their Opera House debut with Aladdin last year, bringing a better script, gags, sets, costumes, cast and dame than in the Simon Barry years.

York Press:

Eragon the Dragon flies out over the Grand Opera House audience in Beauty And The Beast. Picture: David Harrison

Beauty And The Beast is more hit and miss and less magical than that promising new dawn. The structure has returned to set-pieces dominating over plot, and while the earlier-than-usual ghost scene works because Moreno has added to the usual dialogue, Wade's slapstick with Ken Morley's bossy-boots Baron Maurice is lame and slow.

The dragon Eragon, the show's much heralded special attraction, turned up a few days late and turns out to be a rather cumbersome big beast with a muffled voice, closed jaws and static eyes. Apparently, he should emit smoke and hopefully he will by the time you read this. Fire will remain beyond him, however.

In fact there is rather more fire to be found in Lynne McGranger's crabby Wizadora Crabapple, with her rasping Aussie voice and digs at England's hapless cricketers. Likewise, the returning dame, Steve Wickenden, is in saucy mode in a specially created role as Misrabelle, Belle's Ugly Sister, as he goes closer than close to the knuckle on more than one occasion, but is always saved by his natural cheekiness. Back by popular demand this year, he must return next winter.

Cheekiness remains Stuart Wade's trademark too, as his character name of Seymour Bottom would suggest, and he has fun with a piddling puppet pooch (in the village of Much Piddling), a mock Mastermind quiz, and especially when dealing with a scene-stealing Freya, aged five, in the sing-song.

One-time Roly Poly Audrey Leybourne leads off the best ensemble number as Potty T Potts in a tea party scene performed to Madness's irresistibly jolly Our House, and the best song choice under Dean McDermott's musical direction is for Blue singer Antony Costa's Beast to perform Rag'n'Bone Man's Human. This is the show's stellar moment, but the deepening, echo effect on the Beast's speaking voice is not as successful.

Lincoln's Charlotte Maclachlan is given little opportunity to shine as Belle, and it will be interesting to discover if Three Bears will endeavour to find either a York principal girl, or maybe a bigger name, for Cinderella next Christmas.

Emily Taylor's choreography is as proficient as ever – the tap is tip-top – but overall would benefit from greater diversity next time, when Three Bears will need to do more than the bear necessities to match their first year's heights.