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SPECIAL FEATURE: The magic behind the making of the theatre at Baytree




Stage manager James Farrar and artist Jordan Russell get to work on the set. Photo (Tim Wilson): SG070318-118TW
Stage manager James Farrar and artist Jordan Russell get to work on the set. Photo (Tim Wilson): SG070318-118TW

From being the first to cast Home and Away and Neighbours stars in panto, to convincing astrologer Russell Grant to tread the boards in Snow White, there’s a lot people might not know about the man behind the stage at Baytree Theatre.

Paul Hammond, who writes all the scripts for the fast-paced fairy tales retold at the theatre, started out at the age of 14 when he directed his first play.

The Hammond production of the Jungle Book was a hit over the February half-term. (Photo supplied)
The Hammond production of the Jungle Book was a hit over the February half-term. (Photo supplied)

After a varied career, which included bringing names such as Ray Meagher (Alf in Home and Away), Tom Oliver (Lou in Neighbours) and stars of 90s TV shows The Gladiators and the Power Rangers to panto, he came to South Holland to ‘slow down a bit’.

But that was not the way fate intended.

His production company Hammond Feel The Magic is today as busy as ever - bringing to life the family shows which have been delighting audiences at the Baytree Theatre in Weston.

Their productions are so successful, they are then toured in the Middle East in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Dubai. Productions have also been staged in Thailand, the Philippines and across Europe.

We make the shows very fast-paced, all action and family orientated and keep them short - to a maximum of an hour
Paul Hammond, of Hammond Feel the Magic

And they have now turned the room they use at the garden centre into a working theatre in its own right.

“When we started, this was just a room,” Paul explained.

“But we’ve been working on putting various things in over the year.

“We can get 140 seats in, which is not bad, and we have a new sound and lighting rig.”

Josh Hammond looks after lighting and sound at the theatre. (SG070318-116TW)
Josh Hammond looks after lighting and sound at the theatre. (SG070318-116TW)

They’ve also built up the height of the stage and have put in a dressing room.

It’s in perfect preparation for their production of Alice in Wonderland, which is being staged over the Easter holidays from March 29 until April 8.

The show brings the classic Lewis Carroll book Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass to life.

And they are running an Easter circus workshop for youngsters aged 6-14 on Wednesday, April 11, with a Rollo’s circus show on April 12.

Paul Hammond (centre) with actors Ray Meagher (Alf) and Justine Clark ('Roo') in Home and Away. The photo was taken during a break in rehearsals before the Home and Away UK tour in 1991. (Photo supplied)
Paul Hammond (centre) with actors Ray Meagher (Alf) and Justine Clark ('Roo') in Home and Away. The photo was taken during a break in rehearsals before the Home and Away UK tour in 1991. (Photo supplied)

Paul’s son Josh (23) looks after the sound and lighting at the theatre and his nephew Jordan Russell (23) does the set design, as well as make-up and face-painting.

Mum Audrey looks after the box office and stage manager James Farrar got involved as his children go to the performing arts classes that Paul runs at Baytree on Saturday mornings.

“We don’t call the shows we put on here pantos. We call them ‘interactive family shows,’” Paul said.

“They are suitable for ages from two up to 99.

“The grown-ups make more noise than the kids!

“We make the shows very fast-paced, all action and family orientated and keep them short - to a maximum of an hour - and it’s £6.

“People do not want the length. Most people can’t get off their phones for 45 minutes. The world we live in now is so fast-paced.

“The shows have been really popular. We had more than 5,000 come to watch the Jungle Book (over February half-term) and have already sold about 1,200 seats for Alice in Wonderland (as of March 9).

“In Alice we have brought together all the characters, including the Mad Hatter, the White Rabbit and the Jabberwocky.”

The company was asked to bring the shows to the Middle East after a video was spotted of an earlier Jungle Book production.

And they are in negotiations with Saudi Arabia’s crown prince (Mohammed bin Salman) about putting Snow White on the stage with audiences able to see the actress’s whole face and it not be covered.

The crown prince is making a number of reforms in the country, including lifting a decades long ban on cinemas and allowing women to drive and go to football matches.

In his career, Paul also developed the Bradley Bear show for Haven Holidays, and put on shows at Butlins, Pontins and Warner Leisure.

○ Alice in Wonderland is showing at the Baytree Theatre at Baytree Garden Centre in Weston from March 29 until April 8.

Seats cost from £6. After the 3.30pm shows you can also book for an Alice tea party. Book tickets via www.baytreetheatre.co.uk or call 01775 680760.

For more information on the circus workshop and show go to www.theperformingartsschool.co.uk

Paul can also exclusively reveal that after a public vote, this year’s winter pantomime at the theatre will be Beauty and the Beast.

○ Paul (51) trained at the Guildford School of Acting in Surrey in the same year as Michael Ball and has appeared in many plays, including taking on the role of the king in a tour of the King and I and dramas including TV’s Miss Marple.

It was when he injured his knee in his early 20s that he moved into the production side of things, and created Hammond Feel the Magic, which has become a real family business.

He said: “I was the first person to bring the Home and Away and Neighbours stars over here to perform in panto.

“You had people like Les Dawson etc doing the pantos but at that time it was hard to get into the venues because you had a monopoly and the numbers of audiences were starting to wain.

“We packed the theatres.”

He also introduced stars of 90s hit TV show The Gladiators into panto, with Wolf, Rhino and Lightning taking starring roles, and later The Power Rangers.

Other celebrities he worked with included Bradley Walsh, Stephen Mulhern and Strictly’s Brendan Cole who he cast in Cinderella.

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