Kirkstall Abbey’s Nutcracker Extravanganza 14 – 16 December

There can be few more magical places to go at Christmas than Kirkstall Abbey, especially when the nave has been turned into a Winter Wonderland. The atmosphere is set the moment visitors walk in, passing through a shower of snowflakes and under an awning which stretches the full length of the Abbey, stopping just short of the tower where a stage has been set up.

The space in front of the stage where the two transepts cross has been left empty for access to the stalls within and also to provide a dance floor and a further performance area.  Halfway between the entrance and the tower is a small platform in the middle of the walkway which is also used as a performance area and was occupied by a ballerina when I arrived. The red top light gave her an ethereal Christmas feel which was just the thing to put me in seasonal mood. It almost felt like she was having a celebration before floating to the top of the Christmas Tree.

The weather was dry but freezing cold when I was there on Friday night, but there were plenty of stalls selling hot drinks, some laced with alcoholic supplements to keep you feeling warm, and some dispensing with the soft beverages altogether and serving mulled wine. At one end of the transept, I discovered the Hidden Bar which, whilst dispensing hot boozy drinks also had two hand pumps, so I treated myself to a pint of Credence Blonde from Amble in Northumberland. I don’t like adulterating a perfectly good glass of booze with a hot beverage, nor, for that matter, messing up a black coffee with alcohol. Is it just me?
All photographs by Stan Graham.
Anyway, beer in hand I headed to the stage area where the Heavy Beat Brass Band were really getting into performing popular tunes of the day with much gusto, although guarded on either side by impassive looking toy soldiers, each with a drum. In a later set the band would be joined by a couple of guys dressed in similar military fashion but who were anything but deadpan, performing breakdancing, acrobatics – and one of them juggling with fire for the big finale. I suspect that the fire was a welcome addition, what with his being shirtless and the temperature into minus digits.

Other attractions were a woman showcasing her skill with illuminated hoola hoops – the real ones not the snacks – Cossack dancers and a brilliant Gospel Choir. The ballerina also made a couple of  appearances on this stage, possibly trying to put off the tree sitting for as long as possible. Needless to say that with the event being called the Nutcracker Extravaganza, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy was performed in various genres, from the straight ballet to a hiphop version.   

As I have already pointed out, I went to the Abbey on Friday which was opening night, so there were a couple of glitches which I am sure will be sorted out quickly but the one which you really need to be told about concerned the toilets, which comprised a number of portable loos in quite a dark part of the Abbey grounds. It seems that there had been a problem with an electric cable so the area was in total darkness I would therefore suggest that your smartphone is loaded with a flashlight app to assist you in your ablutions.  Duly relieved, I returned to the merriment for a coffee to warm me up and watched the acts come on for a second set, which this time involved members of the audience, mainly children. It was great to see them getting into the spirit of the evening.

I had gone to this event straight from a Christmas lunch so was not very hungry but, had I been, there were lots of street food vendors to choose from, selling the usual unusual burgers, pulled pork and pizzas, as well a sweet treats. I’m sure that there were other stands which I haven’t mentioned as everyone I saw seemed to have a different item of food in their hands.  Vegans, as is normal nowadays, were also catered for.

This is a ticket only event and is run in separate two and a half hour sessions beginning at 10.00am, 1.30pm, 5.00pm and 8.30pm on both Saturday and Sunday, 15th and 16th December. The earlier sessions are aimed at children and the later ones at adults. Admission prices vary from £6.95 to £13.95 and you must pre-book.  There are some on the door tickets for £15.00, although not for the 10.00am slots, but I would urge you to book in advance as this event is usually a sell-out.   See here for full details.   

Whenever you go I hope that you have fun, but I will now spend my holiday hoping that the ballet dancer doesn’t suffer any permanent damage through being at the top of the tree for the next couple of weeks.   

Have a very Merry Christmas.

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