The Cromer Christmas Spectacular

One of the good things about living near to my parents is that they often include me in outings I wouldn’t normally consider on my own. Like last night’s trip to the Cromer Pavilion to witness their Christmas Show.

In the run up to the evening my parents sung Olly Day’s praises and discussed their expectations. I had little idea who Olly Day was or what, exactly, I was letting myself in for. I’ll be honest, the promise of a free dinner and an alternative to watching Lucio Fulci movies alone with my dog was my main motivation for going. That and a sense that, in all the childhood years spent holidaying in Cromer, I had never actually set foot in the pavilion at the end of the pier, thus it was about time I did.

As always we set off earlier than needed, I think my dad lives constantly in fear of sudden and unexpected delays therefore rushing his brood out of the house ‘in good time’. As always we arrived with more than enough time before our reservation at Bella Vista. After a stroll through town, admiring the Christmas lights – brought to you by Cromer Town Council and The War Doctor – we decided on a quick drink in The Red Lion while we waited for Bella Vista to open.

A fortunate decision as it turned out. The barman, who introduced himself as Callum, was jovial and suitably chatty, and happily wearing elf ears. After seeing that our drinking requirements were seen to, Callum enquired as to what had brought us to his establishment this fine evening. Being as there is little to do on a weeknight in Cromer during the off season, he quite rightly assumed we were off to the Show. Slightly apologetically my mother informed him we were also waiting to dine at their sister restaurant. Ah, says Callum, I have a feeling they’re closed, his elf ears waggling sadly. After a phone call and some detective work involving a rota this fact was duly confirmed. My father blustered and huffed but Callum the elf, not at all intimidated, gladly came to the rescue.

Within minutes he had us seated, tasked Jason the waiter to look after our every need and, presumably, harassed the chef into an early start.  The Red Lion doesn’t normally start serving food until 6pm and we were seated by half 5 so we could make the performance’s 7pm start. Callum and Jason went out of their way to be attentive and made sure we were promptly served and that everyone was happy. Although the chef must have been rushed to get food on and out quickly he managed three different burger requirements – all cheeseburgers but ranging from well done through medium to rare – the chips were perfectly cooked and everying was well presented. He did such a fine job all of us ate well and far too much. I can’t speak for the rest of my party but I definitely waddled to the pavilion.

As I have already mentioned I have never actually set foot in the pavilion theatre. It’s been part of the landscape of my childhood but a part taken for granted and never really appreciated. I think I was expecting something slightly tired and shabby looking. You know, the sort of place that once enjoyed grandiose glamour but is now a shell of its former self. The foyer was too full to appreciate, all I noticed was golden butterflies on a huge Christmas tree, besides, we moved swiftly to the auditorium in order to locate our seats. Inside, the theatre is painted a deep red which lends a sense of opulence. Strings of fairy lights brought a delicate, subtle, feeling of Christmas cheer and these coupled with the decorated gauze curtain offering an almost Victorianesque scene of Cromer seafront, created just the right atmosphere. The mismatched fibre optic trees flanking the stage just fitted in. Just.

The lights dimmed, a voice over the tannoy gradually called the audience to attention and, as the gauze lifted we were treated to Eddie Bushell and Jane Watkins, backed by the Seaside Special Dancers, in all their Christmas finery for the first of an evening of ensemble numbers. They were followed by Olly Day who seamlessly alternated between compere and entertainer. This would be the format for the evening; a bit of a song and dance and then a skit or two provided by Day and ‘newbie’ Martyn James.

All in all, it was a genuinely fun evening. Day and James often struggled to keep straight faces throughout their skits, something which is generally a big no-no when performing and yet here it worked. You felt as if you were watching a couple of mates sharing a really good joke. The comedy was remarkably ribald, for the first time ever I found myself concerned for the innocent ears of the children present – both off and on stage! James’ illusions were impressive, in the case of his take on the sword basket routine, hilarious, the multiplying bottle trick and intriguing. Day proved his versatility as a performer, cracking jokes, involving the audience and dressing in drag for a hilarious rendition of an alternative to Manilow’s Copacabana. Most impressive was Day’s final number, which proved beyond a doubt why he is such a popular entertainer and why my parents had been singing his praises.

The ensemble numbers allowed Bushell and Watkins to demonstrate their considerable vocal talents whilst also showcasing the skill of the Seaside Special Dancers. From performing in a mine, through a haunting performance of Silent Night/Stille Nacht to an Oriental inspired piece they demonstrated a range of styles, the girls even dancing en pointe in one ‘scene’. Admittedly the choices of ‘scenes’ seemed increasingly bizzare although, through the performances, mostly made sense. The mine seemed an odd choice but allowed a brief skit involving the seven dwarves, a battlefield scene became a beautifully haunting interpretation of that famous WW1 Christmas, and several, to be expected Christmas party scenes had ballerinas at Cinderella’s ball and veritable rocking around the proverbial Christmas tree. Every time the curtain lifted and I found myself thinking ‘huh?’ the performances generally justified the choices. Except for one. When we found ourselves transported, for some reason to Japan, or possibly China, I genuinely thought they’d lost the plot. The choice of songs didn’t really show off the talents as well as the other songs, in fact Bushell looked like he was struggling slightly with his performance. For me, it was a weak point in the show. However, it was the only one.

All in all I thoroughly enjoyed the evening. It was fun and very different to any shows I’ve seen previously. I’m glad Ihi finally made it to the pavilion and I’m glad it was the Cromer Christmas Show I made it for. Will I go next year? Put it this way, I sense a new family tradition in the making. Bet Martyn James and his amazing mind reading skills saw that coming.

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