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Review: Illuminabbey sprinkles a little magic over familiar setting this festive season



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The Abbey Gardens has always been a magical place, but under the cover of darkness with selective colourful illumination, that magic took on a whole new dimension.

The gardens were transformed for the first ever Illuminabbey festive event at the Bury St Edmunds beauty spot at the weekend.

Visitors went on a 1km walking route, witnessing swirling lights, music and colourful projections hitting the Abbey ruins, alongside street theatre performances.

Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523948)
Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523948)

Ours was a family visit to kick off the festive season, with guests aged from five to 71.

Each of us took something different from the experience. The five, six and 12 year-old visitors in our party were fascinated by Corvus Angelicus – otherwise known as 'the fairy' – and the helter skelter at the end (extra cost applied).

The 30 and 40-somethings among us took delight in seeing the familiar Abbey ruins transformed with the use of clever lighting, while the eldest visitor was also entranced by fiery performances from Juggling Inferno.

Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523954)
Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523954)

Finally (and after what felt a lengthy wait, during which the children wanted to spend a fortune on the rides), drumming troupe Spark! marched in.

Their stunning choreographed performance was in turn fascinating and sinister. The younger members of our party were unable to see due to the number of people watching – and when they did catch a view they were scared.

With cold fingers and numb toes, we called it a night before the performance ended.

Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523942)
Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523942)

The highlight of Illuminabbey is undoubtedly the simple delight of seeing our familiar surroundings lit in new and exciting ways.

I feel more could be made of this should the event run again in the future.

I'd love to see imaginative lighting and sound across more aspects of the venue – for example in the rose garden – and a little more guidance on where to walk (it was not clear to see in the dark and guides were not always on hand) and what was happening when.

Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523932)
Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523932)

Of other friends who visited some missed the fire juggling, one missed the fairy and another missed the drumming.

I'm glad we managed to see at least some of everything Illuminabbey encompassed.

More than 8,200 tickets were snapped up for the sold-out event, which ran from Thursday to Sunday.

Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523934)
Illuminabbey in the Abbey Gardens, December 2021. Picture by Ian Clarke (53523934)

Cllr John Griffiths, leader of West Suffolk Council, which organised the event, said: “We are delighted with the success of IlluminAbbey which is part of the Christmas In Bury activities organised by the council and its town centre partners to help bring festive cheer to our communities as well as a boost to our businesses at this special time of year.

"There are more than 100 Christmas events taking place in and around Bury, all of which can be found at the Bury St Edmunds and Beyond website.

"I hope everyone will have a very merry Christmas while staying Covid-19 safe.”