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Hazlitt Theatre in Earl Street, Maidstone, reopens after coronavirus pandemic

There is cautious optimism ahead of the return of live shows at a town's theatre.

The Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone expects to welcome an auditorium of more than 300 people for the first time in 16 months today.

The Earl Street venue faced an uncertain time as its future was considered in the midst of financial pressures during the coronavirus health crisis.

But thousands of people leapt to safeguard it and Parkwood Theatres, which runs Hazlitt, received £620,000 in April to spend across its four venues.

Playing The Snail and the Whale at 4.30pm today, performers will make their long-awaited stage comeback.

Jenny Longley, one of The Hazlitt Theatre directors, was speaking at final rehearsals on Monday.

She said: "It is amazing to be back.

"This is our first rehearsal and you could feel the energy and positivity in the room, just coming back into the theatre, into rehearsal space and starting a show from scratch. It is a brand new show as well.

Hazlitt Theatre in Earl Street, Maidstone, will reopen today
Hazlitt Theatre in Earl Street, Maidstone, will reopen today

"It is a bit hot but we are buzzing."

The cast for the show is a mix of professionals and home-grown talent from The Hazlitt Theatre.

"What we have got in the cast is professional actors and singing musicians," she said.

"We have got a few past Hazlitt youth theatre members who were in the youth theatre three or four years ago. They have gone on to do some training at drama schools and drama colleges, and we have invited them back so that they can take part in the show.

"We also have some present youth theatre members, who have been with us for quite a few years, joining in as well."

Jenny Longley, one of the directors at the Hazlitt Theatre
Jenny Longley, one of the directors at the Hazlitt Theatre

But their return is mixed with nerves regarding the Covid-19 pandemic.

Jenny explains that one positive test could have big ramifications for the whole production team despite them having been put into relevant social bubbles.

She said: "It definitely will be hard to get back on our feet because of that.

"You rely on people to play their part in shows. It is not just the people on stage you rely on - it is the background staff, it is the creative teams, it is the musicians. It is everybody.

Beauty and the Beast at the Hazlitt Theatre in 2019
Beauty and the Beast at the Hazlitt Theatre in 2019

"If one of those people unfortunately gets a positive test, we do all have to put things into action."

But Jenny is hopeful crowds will be eager to flock back to the theatre with all remaining Covid restrictions now having been released.

She said: "I really hope so. I think it is going to be a trust thing, isn’t it?

"Once you get the foot in the door, they’ll realise that we are still going to be put things in place.

"We are going to be really safe, really careful and, hopefully, they’ll have a good experience and that will snowball."

In November, The Hazlitt Theatre was put under review by Maidstone council's Economic Regeneration and Leisure Committee.

The news prompted Parkwood Theatres to ask for donations.

That saw a fundraising page raise more than £1,500 and the theatre's own donation page also set up.

Read more: All the latest news from Maidstone

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