With the festive season waiting in the wings, we lift the lid on the Thursford Christmas Spectacular – an unparalleled extravaganza of entertainment
Among the quiet rural landscapes of North Norfolk, there lies a place that’s home to a show unlike any other. A place where not one day goes by without mention of Christmas, and every year a humble farm building is transformed by one of the largest performances of its kind across the whole of Europe.
Enter, Thursford – home to the annual Christmas Spectacular. Since its modest beginnings as a small carol concert in 1977, the show blossomed organically over the years into an all-out, non-stop musical entertainment extravaganza – a mesmerising mix of song, dance, speciality acts, humour and a whole lot more.
An opulent cornucopia of wonder and extravagance, its scale is unparalleled, featuring a cast of 130 – comprising over 65 singers, 25 dancers and a 32-piece orchestra performing on a stage more than 130ft wide.
Running throughout November in the run-up to Christmas Eve, the show draws in up to 50 coaches a day full of punters travelling from all over the UK.
A WINTER WONDERLAND
Now in his 46th year as director and producer of the Christmas Spectacular, the show is the brainchild of John Cushing OBE, CEO of the Thursford Collection and fondly known as ‘Mr Christmas’. Joining him is associate producer George Cushing, who also spearheads Thursford’s Enchanted Journey of Light, Norfolk’s premium lantern light experience.
For John, the production’s success over the years lies in its commitment to quality while also keeping everything live, in a world where variety shows are a dying breed and even West End orchestras are using synthesisers and reducing traditional back-up crews to save money. It is also the magic of its setting – rather than the blank walls of a theatre, the Christmas Spectacular is performed with a backdrop of fairground carousels and mechanical organs, which create a charming sense of nostalgic romance.
In its sheer scale, having attracted over 5.8 million visitors to date, John likes to compare the Christmas Spectacular to Glastonbury – a festival that clocks around 200,000 people in the space of a week, while Thursford attracts 165,000 punters in just under two months.
BEHIND THE SCENES
As a mammoth logistical operation, the planning never stops for the big show – whether it’s hand-crafting every single costume, writing the music, choreographing the routines, or even the laborious process of finding a coffee supplier for the whole complex.
Indeed, plans for the 2023 performance began as early as 13 January, as decisions on the music needed to be finalised by the beginning of May in time for auditions to start. As an open audition, almost 2,000 people applied for this year’s show, 300 of whom were individually auditioned – and that’s just the dancers!
Although a time-consuming process, these auditions are instrumental in creating the Thursford difference, by sourcing a cast whose scale is rarely seen elsewhere.
For those auditioning, the chance to perform at Thursford can provide a career-changing opportunity. The show prides itself on casting dancers straight out of college, many of whom go on to receive roles in the West End. For all the talent involved, it’s a rare chance to be part of such a major production.
BETTER THAN EVER
With performances starting on 8 November, this year’s Spectacular is set to be one of the best yet, with a new comedian making his Thursford debut and a host of new numbers and specialty acts that are bound to delight audiences.
Rather than resting on its laurels, upholding the Thursford reputation requires continual innovation and investment. This might involve upgrading to the latest ticketing technology, or major investments such as this year’s instalment of a state-of-the-art sound system. With software to rival the best of the West End shows, this will only elevate the immersive experience that the show offers thanks to its ability to pinpoint sound from an exact point on the vast stage.
For George, such investments are a necessary step in acknowledging the many customers who are willing to part with their money to come and see the show, and Thursford’s commitment to making it worth it.
Unlike many theatres, Thursford isn’t somewhere you arrive 20 minutes before the show to find your seat – it’s a destination in itself. Bursting with attractions, like the shopping village and the Enchanted Journey of Light, Thursford is resplendent at this time of year, with every single tree fairy lit and dressed for Christmas. As John says, the show doesn’t start when the curtains come up, it’s the moment you step out of the car.
To find out more and book your tickets for this year’s Christmas Spectacular, visit thursford.com/christmas-spectacular