Dundee Rep until January 3 5/5 RUDOLF MacRobert Arts Centre, Stirling until January 3 5/5 THE SNOW QUEEN The Arches, Glasgow until January 4 3/5 By MARK BROWN

IN last week's review of the Royal Lyceum's splendid presentation of The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe, I wrote: "If there's a slicker, classier, more professional production on the yuletide Scottish stage, I'll eat my Santa hat." It is with a mouthful of red cotton I report that Dundee Rep's brilliant production of Beauty And The Beast actually surpasses Edinburgh's staging of CS Lewis's great story.

At the Tayside playhouse, director Jemima Levick has reimagined the famous tale of the innocent young woman and the wretched, animalised prince in an extraordinarily bold fashion. Armed with Laurence Boswell's intelligent and lively 1996 adaptation (which is rooted firmly in the French original), she takes us far away from the hopelessly saccharine image of the story offered by Disney's 1991 movie.

Here, the ruined merchant Jean Louis and his five children are forced to give up their Parisian finery and live in a caravan on a farm (which is, much to the amusement of young theatre-goers, complete with real mud). As the desperate businessman's youngest daughter, Beauty, falls into the clutches of the Beast, the production performs a deft and confident balancing act; there is real darkness, both literal and emotional, but there is also plenty of levity in the form of the show's tremendous songs, slapstick humour and neat verbal comedy.

The stylishly designed, splendidly lit production boasts a cast balanced beautifully between experience and talented youth. Established Rep actors Irene Macdougall (the Beast's loyal witch) and Robert Paterson (the merchant) put in fine performances, but it is youngsters Alan Burgon (Beast), Gemma McElhinney (Beauty) and Finn Den Hertog (deeply impressive as the Beast's wild black horse) who lead the way.

Burgon's bare-chested, exquisitely masked Beast is a particular revelation. A recent graduate from the RSAMD in Glasgow, he plays the part as it should be: not as a pathos-laden, hairy caricature, but as a frighteningly unpredictable, terrified and tortured human being. The performance crowns an outstanding presentation which, I can testify from sitting in an enthralled schools audience, captivates the childhood imagination.

There's a major gear change required between Dundee Rep's big production and Rudolf , Andy Manley's charming and inspired two-hander at the MacRobert in Stirling. Designed for children aged three to five, the piece finds two impoverished friends (played beautifully by Rob Evans and Ross Allan) facing a meagre Christmas.

Living in a shack (which sits at the heart of Claire Halleran's gorgeously detailed little set), the two men will have nothing to eat for Christmas dinner unless their chicken, Esmerelda, lays them an egg or two. Ever optimistic, they set about cheering up the miserable bird with their no-holds-barred performance of the story of Rudolf the red-nosed reindeer.

From its portrayal of the unborn Rudolf in his mother's womb, to the array of boldly performed characters (such as the mean-spirited Olive the Other Reindeer and Ugly, the duck who says the word "swans" in his sleep) the show bristles with brilliant ideas. The representation of Rudolf's sad exile from Santa's winter wonderland, following some particularly nasty taunting by the other reindeer, is masterful. The moment when our red-nosed friend finds himself lost in the dark in a snow-covered wasteland would bring a tear to the eye of the most hard-hearted adult.

Respect is due to Manley, Evans and Allan. Everything about their clever, delightful show (including the fine music and songs) is perfectly tailored for pre-school children; and, as any parent of a three-year-old will tell you, keeping the rapt attention of a nursery school audience is no easy matter.

If the MacRobert's pre-school show is virtually flawless, the same cannot be said of The Arches' experimental rendering of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen . The first Christmas show to be staged by the theatre since the departure of director Andy Arnold, it has been created by the adapter/director team of established Arches collaborators Megan Barker and Al Seed.

The results are wildly variable. Student actor Charlene Boyd puts in a winning performance as the intrepid girl Gerda, who trudges through the frozen tundra in order to save her friend Kay, whose heart is being chilled by a splinter from the magic mirror.

However, Brian Conaghan, while he is humorous as the self-regarding Prince (who was previously a frog), makes a mess of the characterisation of the Troll. Although sporting a simple-yet-effective mask, the annoying, ludicrously high-pitched voice he gives the creature is barely understandable much of the time.

Even more problematical, the combination of acted performance and shadow puppetry is unconvincing and the songs and music (a dreadful electronic dirge) are astoundingly bad. Thank goodness for the nice performances (Morag Stark as Grannie and The Snow Queen, and Joe Arkley as Kay, complete a good cast), which make a disappointing show watchable.