Despite it being their 45th anniversary season, this was only my second visit to Thursford’s Christmas Spectacular. But having been once I was at least prepared for the festive overload that comes with this experience! The Thursford Christmas Spectacular really is a one-of-a-kind show. Some may find the somewhat enforced jollity is not to their tatse, 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.
Being their 45th birthday 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. 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 besides. Compared with last year – my only point of reference as a relative newbie – I thought there was more seasonal content in this year’s production. Nevertheless I am always pleased to see the musical theatre classics given the Thursford treatment even when they are not Christmassy.
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.
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.
Having seen last year’s show 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. The only thing is I think I’m all Christmassed-out now!
The Thursford Christmas Spectacular runs until 23 December 2022.