You wouldn’t expect to find one of Europe’s biggest and most lavish Christmas shows in a small village in North Norfolk, but the Thursford Christmas Spectacular is full of surprises. People travel from all around the country to see this show that is celebrating its 46th year in 2023.
If you are curious to see if the show lives up to the hype, I will share my thoughts in this review of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular.
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*We were given press tickets (and some of the photos used in this post), so that we could share our experience with our readers.
About the Thursford Christmas Spectacular
The Thursford Christmas Spectacular is part of the Thursford Collection which has the world’s largest collection of steam engines, organs, wurlitzers and fairground rides. They started the Christmas show in 1977 and over the years more than 6 million visitors of all ages from around the world have seen it.
The show is an extravaganza of non-stop singing, dancing, music and variety with a cast of 120 dancers, singers, musicians and speciality acts. It is hosted by the incomparable Lloyd Hollett, affectionately known as the Comedy Wordsmith, who brings his unique style of comedy to the Thursford stage for the first time.
At the Thursford Collection, you can also find Santa’s Magical Journey (a special experience where kids can meet Father Christmas) and the Enchanted Journey of Light (includes Fantasy Land and a lantern light trail with illuminated sculptures and more). These Christmas events are not included with your Thursford Christmas Spectacular tickets.
They have a special offer (subject to availability) where you can go to The Enchanted Journey of Light (which includes Fantasyland and the Lantern Light Trail), before you see the Thursford Spectacular at a reduced rate of £10 per person. You cannot prebook at this rate and you need to present your show ticket upon entry.
*If you want to find out more about festive events in the area, check out our list of the best Christmas events in Norfolk.
Our Experience at the Thursford Christmas Spectacular
After getting a taste of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular last year, we were genuinely looking forward to a second round. The bar had been set high, but given its impressive history, we were confident that another delightful experience awaited us.
This time we arrived early so we would have time to do more than just see the show. We had tickets for the matinee, so when we got to Thursford it was still light. Walking from the car park, we passed a striking display of the King’s Guard and Household Cavalry (little did I know it would look even better once it was dark).
We opted for a casual lunch at the Pavilion Restaurant, a cafeteria-style spot. Our selections were the pulled pork sandwich and the brie and cranberry sandwich, both served with a side of coleslaw, and they were quite tasty.
Following a delightful lunch, we made our way to the theatre, which is actually a steam museum for the rest of the year. Eager to soak in the festive ambiance, I took a moment to admire the beautiful holiday decorations that seemed to be everywhere. It’s also worthwhile to check out the the classic steam engines and the carousel on the left side of the theatre.
We wanted to ensure we had ample time to find our seats, especially since the action unfolds in the aisles. This year we had seats on the opposite side of the stage from last year and a bit further back this time, but we still had a fantastic view of all the action. I don’t believe there’s a bad seat in the house.
As the final attendees were finding their seats, a couple of bagpipes struck up some classic Christmas tunes—a clever move to capture everyone’s attention and set the festive mood. The Thursford singers, dancers, and orchestra then jumped into the act on stage, adding a contemporary twist with a medley of modern Christmas songs.
Next up, we were introduced to our host, Lloyd Hollett, tasked with filling the shoes of the fantastic Kev Orkian, who had charmed the audience in the previous years. Lloyd proved to be a witty comedian, employing a clever play on words, vocal wizardry, and impeccable comedic timing to keep the laughter rolling.
The laughter wasn’t confined to just the comedy bits. Even in the dance numbers, there were humourous details woven in—whether through amusing facial expressions or clever dance moves. The audience found themselves chuckling at times throughout the show, especially during their playful rendition of “Santa Lost His Mojo.”
Also, don’t expect the musicians to stay hidden in an orchestra pit. While they do take a seat on stage at times, here’s the twist—they showcase their talent by dancing while playing their musical instruments in certain songs. It’s a display of impressive skill and coordination.
The show featured three specialty acts as well. Sven and Jan showcased acrobatics on roller skates, Danny Butler wowed the audience with an extreme biking routine, and Strahlemann and Sohne delivered an unexpectedly funny juggling act. While each performer displayed impressive talent on their own, the combination of dynamic lighting and music that elevated these acts to another level entirely.
Last year was my introduction to the mesmerising world of the Wurlitzer organ, and watching someone play this unique instrument was no less impressive the second time around. Phil Kelsall has been enchanting Thursford audiences for an astounding 42 seasons!
The show featured close-up videos of him working his magic on the Wurlitzer, and it was captivating to watch his hands and feet gracefully dance over the various keyboards and pedals. The orchestration was so masterful that it seemed like he was playing at least three different instruments simultaneously. Is there an instrument more challenging to master than this?
Act I concluded with a burst of high-energy dance, set to a medley of songs from Mary Poppins, a personal favourite film of mine. The performance, featuring chimney sweeping brushes, stayed true to the classic film, creating an atmosphere so authentic that it almost felt like Julie Andrews herself might make a surprise appearance. The infectious energy had much of the audience dancing in their seats, and enthusiastic singing along added to the joyful atmosphere.
The 25-minute interval passed quickly. The shops were open. You could also get snacks and drinks from the bars or ice cream from the ushers in the aisle. We were treated to mince pies and mulled wine, which was delicious. Before the show started up again, they announced winners for the raffle.
The show features a variety of dance styles, from Irish dancing to high kick routines and more. Regardless of the dance type, you can always count on visually appealing performances executed with both energy and precision. It’s as if these ladies have been dancing together for years.
I was particularly captivated by their routine to “Stars and Stripes Forever.” One move, where some dancers stood while others sat, left me mesmerized. I couldn’t fathom how they created such a compelling visual effect.
In keeping with tradition, the show concluded with the entire cast gathering on stage, accompanied by the enchanting sight of doves soaring over the audience, set to a magical melody of carols.
Review of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular
It’s evident why people journey from all corners of the UK to experience the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. I found myself thoroughly captivated and, truth be told, not quite ready for the performance to end after three hours. We’re truly fortunate to have such a special show right here in Norfolk!
The talent, both on stage and behind the scenes, was nothing short of outstanding. The musicians and singers seamlessly transitioned into good actors and dancers, while the dancers infused the show with an incredible energy. Everyone delivered a phenomenal performance, making it nearly impossible to single out any standouts.
While I appreciated the specialty acts last year, this year’s performances elevated the excitement to a whole new level. I was on the edge of my seat, at times worried someone might get hurt, yet thankfully, everyone emerged unscathed. Other moments had me in stitches, laughing at the sheer entertainment unfolding before my eyes.
The costumes and set design were fun, colourful, and elaborate, and one can only imagine the tremendous effort invested in bringing it all to life. Even the orchestra members underwent costume changes, showcasing creativity and attention to detail that contributed to the magical atmosphere of the show.
The music presented an enjoyable mix of Christmas classics and popular tunes. From soulful ballads showcasing impressive vocal cords to lively tunes highlighting dynamic dance moves, the selection was well-balanced. The orchestra, far from being a mere accompaniment, was an integral part of the show. The use of different instruments, particularly the fascinating wurlitzer and the enchanting sounds of bagpipes, added unique dimensions to the musical experience.
The theatre’s design, coupled with the versatile stage, complemented the diverse acts on display. The cast utilized the space masterfully, ensuring there was always something captivating happening – whether a small group in the spotlight, the ensemble cast taking advantage of the expansive stage, or performances right in the aisles. The use of big screens for projections ensured that no one felt like they were missing a moment.
Lloyd Hollett, the new host, was a delightful addition with his unique style of comedy, bringing an extra layer of enjoyment to the show. His comedic flair and engagement with the audience added a fresh and entertaining dynamic.
This year, we also had the pleasure of experiencing the Thursford Enchanted Journey of Light, which proved to be a delightful complement to the Christmas Spectacular. If you find yourself in Thursford, it’s well worth a visit. You can read our review here to learn more about it.
Thursford has truly perfected the formula for a Christmas variety show. It’s a sensory feast, earning the rightful title of “Spectacular.” I’m eagerly anticipating what they have in store for next year and beyond!
If you are still not convinced, you can read more reviews of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular on Tripadvisor here.
Be sure you book your tickets here, before it sells out!
Thursford Christmas Spectacular FAQs
For 2023, there are shows 8 November to 23 December.
Prices start at £43 for weekday evening performances in 2023. Check the price and availability for tickets here. **For a limited time, you can get tickets for select performances of the Thursford Spectacular on Groupon at 25% off. Find out more here.
The show lasts three hours including a 25 minute interval.
Yes. Outside the auditorium there is the Garden Pavilion restaurant and Barn café which are available on a first come first served basis. Inside the auditorium, there is the Carousel tea bar and Licensed bar. During the interval, the ushers were selling ice cream in the aisles.
The show is family-friendly, but not aimed at children specifically. Many kids will enjoy the production as it is visually mesmerizing with some catchy tunes, but it might be too long for those that don’t like to sit still. Officially it is suitable for kids ages 8 and older. Children aged 4 or under will not be permitted into the auditorium.
Check out our recommendations for things to do in Norfolk with kids if you need more ideas.
The Thursford Christmas Spectacular takes place at the Thursford Collection. Use the postcode NR21 0AS in your GPS, and once you get in the area, it is well sign posted.
Yes. The luxurious, award-winning bed and breakfast Holly Lodge is just a three-minute walk from the Thursford Christmas Spectacular. Check price and availability here.
No. You can not take pictures or video during the performances of the Thursford Christmas Spectacular.
There is a large car park (with limited disabled parking spaces) on site that is free to use. It opens at 11:30 on performance days and there are attendants to assist you.
Yes! The Thursford Christmas Spectacular is as good as (if not better than) many West End shows. It is quality entertainment that is fun and full of the Christmas spirit. You get good value for the money you spend on these tickets.
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