Norfolk’s most anticipated holiday event returns home now in its 45th year, to celebrate the magic of the season through a lavish display of fantasy, talent and jaw-dropping entertainment. Join us in this exclusive tour through its attractions and experiences, accompanied by several unique chats with some of its cast members, and get to know first hand what’s in store in the biggest and highest-budgeted Christmas gala in all of Europe.
Either if you’re a Grinch or a Santa’s groupie, you can’t deny that the scent of Christmas is already floating in the air (the reaction you may have at it is a different matter…). Beyond the tumultuous frenzy of the London scene, its streets already studded with the light and fervour of the upcoming holidays, there’s somewhere else where the buzz and excitement of the season is perhaps even more palpable and infectous than all of the capital city’s outrageous efforts.
Based in the little village of Thursford, within the majestic seaside country beauty of Norfolk, the Christmas Spectacular is probably more than a recurring event for locals and wayfarers but a tradition that has set its own roots in the town’s folklore. Now celebrating 45 years since this vast land (and former farm) was donated for the sake of the theatre and entertainment, millions of people from all around the UK have peregrinated (many of them returning) in search for the joy, fun and childlike delight dwelling in this reverie of snow and wonder.
Still a few feet away from the turnstiles, only one step on its red-bricked pavement is required for your adulthood to be sent into oblivion – and be replaced by the excitement of your kid-self fulfilling their greatest desire. It may be November, but it’s Christmas alright. Like it or hate it, you’re trapped in its grip – and pretty much charmed by it. Walking pass a menagerie of gift-crafting polar bears and august reindeers, an ornate display of magical exhuberance unrolls before our eyes. On the left, intricate little shops and restaurants welcome their early wanderers. On the right, a whimisical grotto through Santa and his hardworking elf team’s homeland expects a much eager audience. And on the centre, the heart and soul of the entire experience begins to prepare for what will be a matinee and evening of laughter, bewilderment and resounding applause.
Pass through its arch wooden doors and a carnival of glitter, candles and wreath (supported by antique merry-go-rounds and train engines) unfolds throughout what would compare to three times a West End stage. Around its hundreds of seats (now empty, but soon to be crowded by an enthusiastic public), a huge ensemble comprising over 50 singers and 20 dancers peform the behind-the-scenes preshow soundtrack. It’s vocal warmup time – the spectacle is about to begin.
“This is the first time I’m doing this show and the first thing I’ve noticed is the amount of effort, energy and kindness this family has put together”, says mezzosoprano Mychele Lebrun. “Even though it’s massive and it’s being around for 45 years, there’s such a family backstage. That’s the reason why other performers want to come back year after year”. Alongside her, two veterans of different kinds (one, a musician, the other, a singer) nod emphatically. “I’ve been with this show for 8 years and they keep trying to make it bigger and bigger”, comments 1st Trumpet Jacob Phillips. “In a time when orchestras are constantly being reduced in the West End and on tour, here John (the producer) has managed to keep it as a 30-piece”. “I was born when the show first started, so it’s also my 45th anniversary”, claims among his peers’ cheers and laughs 1st Bass Baritone Ian Kirton. “I am so thrilled to be back here, not only as a birthday celebration, but because the production just keeps getting better”.
For a starter in this regional heritage as I am, it’s hard to say if they’re telling the truth as for if the show has experienced any improvement. But regarding what they’re advertising, it’s an underselling. From the lavishness of fully staged Christmas extravaganza numbers to intimate musical flashes, connected through heavenly tear-triggering renditions of classical carols, Thursford Christmas Spectacular is a superb homage to the spirit of bliss and kidness that’s supposed to reign over the season. Hosted by comedian (and unexpectedly, very competent pianist) Kev Orklan, the show is a carousel of giggles, astonishment and heart touching moments – with enough power to make their permanent imprint in your fondest memories.
“It has so much variety”, says Dance Captain Natalie Davis. “We may be dancing to a new Christian classical piece, which has required a few hours to prepare, and then go from can-can to a big character number and then to a full Irish dance”. Standing by this Thursford-experienced performer (several years in the making), a newly fresh addition, coming all the way from Texas, reflects on how much she’s learned only through this one show. “This is my first time in the UK and there alrady is so much that I can put into next jobs”, explains Maya Duncan. “There are so many new techniques they have taught us and they have trusted us with. And in the end, it all looks amazing. As a dancer, it’s so special that they have given us this opportunity”.
If something is undeniable about this show, by all means, it’s the huge amount of effort, attention to detail and, above all, love and care that’s been put into it. Something that of course appeals not only to the performance itself, but the entire experience – which is far from over after the curtain call.
Night falls in Norfolk, and in a sea of darkness, the glitz of the event unravels in an even more wondrous way. Next to the grotto, further down the funfair, an exhibition of fluorescent sculptures lure travelers into their animated paradise of giant moving flowers, red-coloured whales and frozen marvels. For some, the conclusion of a day to be treasured. For others, the prologue to a sweet remembrance to be made. For everybody (artists and audiences), a major adventure into something that can be described, but not compared – let alone understood if you’re not there. Almost half a century has gone by since John Cushing had a humble dream – a dream of creating, of bringing happiness and of paying tribute to a period that’s genuinely unique to so many. But that dream has never turned into reality. For instead, it’s always been a fantasy, which just as its number of devotees, will keep expanding as long as we don’t forget about that pure and tender side of us that knows that magic, in some way or another, can actually happen.
All pictures credited to Guillermo Názara, except for the thumbnail featuring Vladislav Khovstik, which is kindly provided by the event’s PR team.
Thursford Christmas Spectacular runs until 23 December 2022. Tickets are available on the following link.