Thursford Christmas Spectacular spreads festive fun

Bonfire night was barely over, but Christmas officially began this weekend as hundreds flocked to a former farm shed deep in the north Norfolk countryside.

More than 130,000 people from around the country are expected to attend this year's Thursford Christmas Spectacular and it kicked off with all the glitz, enthusiasm and festive spirit that keeps the regulars coming back - and booking tickets up to a year in advance.

The show is widely recognised as one of the biggest in Europe and, while audiences enjoy care-free, old-fashioned fun, Christmas is clearly taken extremely seriously behind the scenes.

What started life as a barn has once again been lovingly transformed into a dazzling grotto, with hundreds of thousands of lights and decorations, plus a whole forest of Christmas trees.

Preparations started in August and the 2010 show had a �3m budget, with some of the three to four minute dance sequences costing more than �45,000 in costumes alone.

More than 100 cast members, 20 dancers, 56 top singers and a 32-piece orchestra fill the huge stage and their professionalism shines through.

The show's director and founder, John Cushing, said: 'Coaches have come from all over the country, from Manchester to Devon. We actually get as many people here as Glastonbury!

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'It's an action-packed show and we have easily spent more than �250,000 just on the costumes. This is something you can't see anywhere else in the country.'

The fast-moving spectacular, which opened on Saturday, is certainly unique, seamlessly bringing together readings, comedy, carols, songs, and dance, with choral interludes and the mighty Wurlitzer organ.

All the festive pop favourites, from White Christmas to Santa Claus is Comin' to Town, come thick and fast, but with the sparkle and smiles came some genuinely moving moments.

There were some fantastic choral arrangements and the candle-lit rendition of Silent Night, opening with a harp solo, was particularly impressive.

It was impossible to guess what would come next in the almost frantic first half, which featured dancing penguins, sing-along carols, an illusionist and Highland pipers.

Highlights included a virtuoso Wurlitzer demonstration by Phil Kelsall and a beautifully-sung performance of Climb Every Mountain.

The break-neck pace slowed in the second half, with wonderful versions of O Holy Night, Once in Royal David's City and White Christmas.

Although it was only November 6, it was it was almost impossible not to get swept up in the Christmas spirit.

It is hard to resist such a warm and magical atmosphere when your senses are bombarded with all things festive - carols, lights, mince pies at the interval and the lingering scent of spicy mulled wine.

So, why not check you cynicism at the door, sit back and enjoy the ride. The spectacular runs until December 23, with two shows daily at 2pm and 7pm. Call the box office on 01328 878477 for more details.

A special charity gala performance is being held on Saturday December 18 in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust Appeal and it promises to have a very special guest in the audience.

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