A magical time travelling adventure is on the cards for visitors to Bell Court next year as the site’s newest and most unusual attraction was confirmed last week.
Magic Alley, which currently operates on Henley Street, is set to open a brand new attraction exploring the lost years of William Shakespeare within a 4,500sqft unit in the heart of the new development.
The attraction will take its inspiration from grand Victorian follies and the romance of great black and white movies such as Casablanca, Brief Encounter and the 39 Steps.
The new Magic Alley will become the company’s flagship attraction and store, featuring a host of state-of-the-art animatronic displays and soundscapes.
It will include nods to steampunk culture and will occupy a large upper-floor unit stretching from the Wood Street entrance to the new Ask Italian restaurant.
Around £500,000 will be invested in the new attraction, with 5-7 full-time jobs created, following its 16-20week fit out.
Dave Matthews set up the original Magic Alley in London back in 1990, before opening on Henley Street in 2000 and eventually moving the entire company to Stratford.
The magical world he has created at Magic Alley is inspired by his Chronicles of Wizard’s Thatch series of books, which chart the time travelling adventures of Shakespeare during his lost years.
Dave, a former pupil at King Edward VI School, began by telling the stories to his goddaughter, but has since published 14 books in the children’s series.
Dave Matthews, who founded the company 27 years ago, said: “Over the years we have grown exponentially to the point where we have outgrown our premises on Henley Street. We’ve looked at a number of different buildings within Stratford but when the chance to came to move into Bell Court we were very excited. While the front of the building is modern, the aim is that people will feel like they are stepping back in time, it will appear a lot older when they enter.
“This will be totally unique, there’s nothing else like it, it will be a complete immersive experience and will be totally accessible for everyone. The soundscapes will be created by Andy Cox, who has worked in TV and Film, and people with sight issues will be able to enjoy the experience.
“We’ve chosen Bell Court because we believe it will become the new hub of the town centre. For many years when it was Town Square, the area was underused and neglected, but UK and European have now created a special space, a vibrant hub of the town. I think Magic Alley will fit in with the rest of the businesses moving into Bell Court.
“We have a long season at Magic Alley, from Easter to Christmas and although this might not be open in time for Easter next year, we believe it will be up and running in time for the Shakespeare Birthday Celebrations.
“When it opens it will be spectacular, it will be like a steampunk cathedral, with a grand entrance and high arched celling with a glass elevator, when you step through the doors it will blow you away. The animatronics, which are all made in Britain, will be fantastic, for example one of the centrepieces will be a moving Shakespeare with a moving dragon hanging around his shoulders.
“I think it is important that Stratford has attractions like this because it will encourage visitors to stay longer in the town and ultimately boost the local economy. With the work the Birthplace Trust has done at New Place and the recent refurbishment of the Guildhall, the Shakespearian focus of Stratford is widening out from Henley Street so I think being at Bell Court will be a great location, right between these landmarks.”
Dave added that the current Magic Alley on Henley Street will remain once the new attraction opened, though there would be big changes.
He also revealed that he is in the process of searching for a new building in another city to further expand the business.
Joe Baconnet, director of Stratforward BID, said: “This is really good news and exciting for one of the town’s long standing businesses. I’m really chuffed that they are able to take a significant unit in Bell Court and expand their business in Stratford rather than elsewhere.
“I know how hard the team at Magic Alley work and this will add a different dimension the occupiers at Bell Court. During this process we’ve tried to support them where we could as we would with all our BID members.
“It’s exciting and a massive vote of confidence in the opportunities that the redeveloped Bell Court is creating for Stratford as a whole.”
John Stacey, Asset Management Director at UK & European Investments, added: “Magic Alley will bring a new dimension to Bell Court, introducing another leisure offering at the development. It’s already a popular attraction amongst tourists and local residents and, having seen the plans for the new store, it’s certainly going to get a lot of people excited when it opens.”