Thursday, 18 November 2021

REVIEW: Thursford Christmas Spectacular

“If you really love Christmas, come on and let it snow!” So sings Billy Mack in seasonal favourite Love Actually. But having seen the Thursford Christmas Spectacular for the first time I can say that for anyone who really, really loves Christmas, this must be an essential pilgrimage. And don’t be fooled into thinking it’s just a three-hour (including interval) variety show with added tinsel. There’s a shopping village, food outlets and, not least, the Enchanted Journey of Light – a walk-through journey of Christmas trees, elves and much more, culminating in a huge outdoor light exhibition (chargeable in addition to your show ticket). To really get the feel of Thursford you need to treat it as a complete Christmas experience. In fact, once you’ve had this experience, you probably don’t need to do anything else for Christmas. You’ll feel completely stuffed full!

With Disneyland-like attention to detail, Thursford delivers its enchantment through every aspect of your visit – from the background music playing on the grounds to the costumed and attentive staff, everything is aimed at giving you a magical Christmas experience. If you’re more inclined to the bah, humbug view of the season, this may all be a little cloying. But take it for what it is and you should be charmed.

The main event of your visit is the show itself. At heart, it’s old-fashioned variety theatre with a chorus, dancers, speciality acts, humorous monologues and a comic, who also acts as our compere. For avid cruisers, in terms of content, it’s quite like a compendium of all the cruise shows you’ve ever seen at sea. The difference is in scale and quality. In terms of scale, the on-stage cast is about 120 people. The choir alone is about 48-strong. There’s a troupe of highly disciplined and precisely choreographed dancers. And centre-stage is a living, breathing Wurlitzer cinema organ which provides one of the stand-out moments of the evening. All the music and singing is performed live and when combined with the numerous costumes and thousands of fairy lights on the set, it’s a feast for the eyes and ears. I also liked that the amount of purely Christmas material was quite limited. Many of the big numbers, for instance, were from well-known shows like Anything Goes, Me and My Girl and Chicago.

The host is Kev Orkian, an experienced performer who specializes in combining comedy and music. He judged the audience well, delivering sharp and funny material which was also easily accessible to all ages. His musical skills are amazing and this means he is filling a gap in the entertainment world left vacant since the demise of the great Victor Borge.

There are some downsides. Thursford is, other than at Chrismas, home to the world’s largest collection of traction engines, steam engines and fairground organs. The huge shed they live in is converted to host the Christmas show and it’s not entirely suited to the task. The stage is enormously wide but has hardly any height. And not only are there pillars in the auditorium – but they are also all along the front of the stage, dividing it into a series of windows. Combine this with the huge Christmas decorations and lights hanging down, and the effect after a while is of watching the show whilst peering through a letterbox. The staging acknowledges this so for the most part the problematic sightlines are not a big issue. But at three hours with the interval, I was beginning to notice the low stage and the lack of legroom in the last half an hour, which until then I had not.

The Thursford Christmas Spectacular is not for everyone. You may consider yourself too sophisticated to be seduced with its sheer twinkles. As for children, the Enchanted Journey of Light will captivate them but the show itself is unlikely to do so. It’s definitely more for mums, dads and grandparents. All credit, though, to producer and director John Cushing (who also runs and owns the Thursford museum throughout the year) for creating something of such glittering quality and uniqueness. 

Review by John Charles 

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: XB37 | Price of ticket: £44
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