Sunday, 13 November 2022

REVIEW: Thursford Christmas Spectacular 2022

The Thursford Christmas Spectacular really is a one-of-a-kind show. The nearest comparison is to the Andre Rieu concerts, except Thursford makes Rieu look dull by comparison. And if you’ve ever seen a Rieu concert you’ll know that takes some doing! Some may find the somewhat enforced jollity of a Rieu concert cloying, but at Thursford the whole show is wrapped up in such a sparkling experience right from the moment you enter the site – music playing through the fairy-lit trees and Dickensian-dressed characters offering a warm welcome – that you’d be hard pushed to maintain any Scrooge-like sensibilities by the time the show itself begins.

It’s their 45th anniversary season so all the stops have been pulled out – and not just on the Thursford Wurlitzer organ, the capabilities of which are memorably showcased by Phil Kelsall. The on-stage company is the biggest you’re ever likely to see, and by some margin. Nearly everyone involved gets a photo and biography in the programme, which is nice to see. From this, we learn that these are highly professional and experienced performers across the board, with CVs including opera and the West End.

The quality is evident in every aspect of the show. It’s essentially a good old-fashioned variety show. And if you’ve not seen one of those recently you may, perhaps, have seen something similar on a cruise ship. Some of this show’s performers have experience performing on cruise ships and while this is a similar sort of thing, the scale is epic. Tiller girl style high-kicking dance routines, precision marching to ’76 trombones’, West End showstoppers from Half a Sixpence, Mary Poppins and Hairspray and much more. 

Returning as host is Kev Orkian, performing that rare trick of being funny for an audience that, mostly, haven’t come to see him. He’s also a gifted musical talent, doing some clever and witty musical parodies.

The orchestra/band is large and versatile. Their Dixieland-style version of Maria Carey’s All I Want for Christmas was inspired. Whilst Hairspray’s You Can’t Stop the Beat was powerful and vibrant. My only quibble is that this number, when taken out of the context of its original show, fails to make the point it’s written for – namely about racial integration. Similarly, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, from Gypsy, is on one level a great Broadway standard. In context, as Ethel Merman biographer Brian Kellow notes, “It's a chilling illustration of blind ambition mixed with megalomania." 

Amidst all the spectacle there’s a delightfully witty and wonderfully English comedy song complaining about the Church Of England. I’d somehow missed out on the gem that is Mrs Beamish and on checking (there’s no programme credit for any composers or lyricists – a shame) I see it’s by Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern. Joyous.

This was only my second ever Thursford experience and I was particularly impressed that, a few traditional elements aside, it seemed to me an entirely new production. Yes, the essence and the format remain the same, but costumes, choreography, music – even Ken Orkian’s jokes – were all new for this year. I think I’m all Christmassed-out for this year now!

Review by John Charles

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: Stalls N10 | Price of ticket: £45
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