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‘There’s a point of no return’ - Thursford Christmas Spectacular organisers ‘optimistic’ show will happen

PUBLISHED: 08:12 19 April 2020 | UPDATED: 08:12 19 April 2020

A scene from last year's Thursford Christmas Spectacular. Picture: THURSFORD

A scene from last year's Thursford Christmas Spectacular. Picture: THURSFORD

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Coronavirus is the biggest challenge the Thursford Christmas Spectacular has faced in its 44-year history. STUART ANDERSON found out how the popular show is weathering the storm.

Steve Hewlett and dancers in costume for the Thursford Christmas Spectacular 2019. Picture: THURSFORDSteve Hewlett and dancers in costume for the Thursford Christmas Spectacular 2019. Picture: THURSFORD

It draws thousands of visitors and pumps millions of pounds into the Norfolk economy.

And despite the uncertainty around the coronavirus lockdown, the Thursford Christmas Spectacular is still going ahead in 2020.

But George Cushing, who is in charge of projects and marketing for the show, said they were “nervous” about what could happen.

Mr Cushing, son of Thursford’s chief executive Jon Cushing, said: “At the moment it’s still 100pc going ahead as planned.

Royer and Emelie rehearsing for the Thursford Christmas Spectacular 2019. Picture: THURSFORDRoyer and Emelie rehearsing for the Thursford Christmas Spectacular 2019. Picture: THURSFORD

“But the show is what we are most nervous about.

“We might be allowed out and life might be getting back to normal, but are people going to feel confident enough to go into an auditorium with 1,400 people?

“There’s also the journey - many people travel by bus for four or five hours to get here - and checking into a hotel. We’re in close communication with all our tour operators, but it’s still an unknown.”

Roughly £3-4 million is invested into the show in the lead-up to opening night, paying everything from auditions to props and office costs.

John Cushing, Picture: AlbanpixJohn Cushing, Picture: Albanpix

Mr Cushing said a final decision about this year’s show would have to be made by August.

He said: “There’s a kind of point of no return. But we’re keeping optimistic, and keeping business as usual.”

Auditions for Thursford’s 50-odd singers, which usually takes place in May, have already been cancelled, and casting for the show’s 20+ dancers has been pushed back to the end of July. “That’s very much written in pencil at the moment,” Mr Cushing said.

“We’ve contacted singers who have done the show in the past to see if they want the job for this year - that’s to save people from having to travel and to protect our casting manager.”

A scene from last year's Thursford Christmas Spectacular. Picture: THURSFORDA scene from last year's Thursford Christmas Spectacular. Picture: THURSFORD

He said they hoped to be able to offer a discount on tickets for NHS and care staff as a thank you.

Few sectors have been as badly hit by the coronavirus lockdown as tourism and entertainment.

MORE: The verdict on Thursford Christmas Spectacular

Practically all venues have had to close, and most musicians and other performers are self-employed and face an uncertain future.

Performers in rehersals for the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. The show is still planning to go aehad in 2020. Picture: Jamie HoneywoodPerformers in rehersals for the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. The show is still planning to go aehad in 2020. Picture: Jamie Honeywood

But Mr Cushing said they were doing their best to stay positive, and they had started running a series of live-stream ‘concerts’ on their Facebook page.

The performances, which take place Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursday at 6pm, feature singers from past shows performing in their living rooms.

Mr Cushing said the performances were getting an “incredible” reception and had been view thousands of times.

He said: “It’s helping to keep everybody motivated and engaged, It’s lovely for our cast members to see their old friends performing, and it puts a smile on people’s faces.”

George Cushing, one of the organisers of the Thursford show, pictured with Barbara Cushing. Picture: Bob HobbsGeorge Cushing, one of the organisers of the Thursford show, pictured with Barbara Cushing. Picture: Bob Hobbs

Mr Cushing said Robert Wolfe was also going to stream a couple of songs playing the ‘Mighty Wurlitzer’ organ.

This was to be Mr Wolfe’s 40th summer season playing the organ and the Thursford team had planned a special gala event for him.

Mr Cushing said: “That’s now been postponed until we have some more clarity about what’s going on.”

Mr Cushing said the coronavirus lockdown was the biggest challenge Thursford had ever faced, just as it was for many businesses.

The senior George Cushing - founder of the Thursford Collection.  
Photo: Bill DarnellThe senior George Cushing - founder of the Thursford Collection. Photo: Bill Darnell

Thursford’s collection of steam engines and organs is open throughout the year, and the venue also hosts weddings, but it’s the Christmas show that keeps the operation afloat.

Mr Cushing said: “It pays for the upkeep of the steam engines in the summer, and really keeps us going for the whole year.

“We get around 15,000 visitors six months during the year, but in the six weeks of the show we get around 160,000.”

Mr Cushing said the show brought about £15 million to Norfolk’s businesses each year, as many visitors tended to stay for a night or more.

He said: “Fingers crossed it can bring a lot of people a lot of joy at the end of the year.

“It would It would hopefully be a good boost to the local economy at the end of quite a dark period.

“There are going to be a lot of lessons learned after this. But whatever happens we’ll come out of it stronger, and everyone will have a lot more appreciation for the small things.”

Coronavirus in Norfolk: Latest updates here

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