Norfolk’s unique Thursford Christmas Spectacular set to take to the stage for its 40th year
- Credit: Ian Burt
Final rehearsals are under way at Thursford, near Fakenham, which is home to the UK's biggest Christmas show.
Its 130-strong cast create a three-hour whirl of song, dance, music and humour under thousands of sparkling lights, which runs from Thursday until Friday, December 23.
Musical orchestrator Jonathan Smith first became involved with the show more than 30 years ago, when the Thursford Collection staged a series of carol concerts. Since then, it has grown into a show that rivals anything on offer in London's West End - with Mr Smith now arranging every note played by its 30-piece orchestra.
'Everything's written from scratch, thousands and thousands of sheets,' he said. 'It's a long job. We start in April.'
Some start work even earlier. Director John Cushing, who has overseen the show's meteoric rise, begins scripting ideas in January.
Then cast manager Colin Window starts the process of recruiting the singers and dancers who will bring it to life.
'When John gets the show together, we have an idea who we're looking for,' he said. 'We advertise and get more than 1,000 applications for 56 roles.'
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Around a third will be invited for audition. This year's cast is aged from 18 to late 40s, with performers from Zimbabwe, Serbia, Japan and Australia, as well as all four corners of the UK.
'This is the most incredible place in the world to work on many levels,' said Mr Window. 'We create our own community, we're very lucky to have incredibly supportive management and artists who genuinely work together to create something.'
Stunning costumes are one of the hallmarks of the Thursford extravaganza. They begin on designer Stephen Adnitt's sketch pad, before the outfits are custom made for each routine, ranging from skimpy chorus line numbers to teddy bear costumes which cost more than £30,000 for one three-minute scene.
Costume supervisor Suzy Andrews oversees the rapid changes between routines and running repairs - as well as the overflowing laundry baskets.
'Every night we wash between 150 - 200 shirts, every performer has a personals bag and there's dry cleaning on top of that on a rota every night,' she said.
Site foreman Ben Sands and his team have been decorating the auditorium with bursts of Christmas colour since late September, ready for the opening night.
'I love the place,' he said. 'It's a magical place to be, all the diverse characters you see, it's just fantastic.'
Dancer Kimberlee Collicutt, 27, from Cheltenham, was practising a dance routine in a bear costume under the dazzling spotlights.
'It's my sixth year here,' she said. 'I's such a great show, it's amazing, full of variety. You don't get that anywhere else in the UK, it's a wonderful show.'
The show runs daily at 2pm and 7pm from Thursday, November 10 until Friday, December 23. To book, click here or call 01328 878477.