Not many directors can say they have bragging rights, having crossed the same path as author J. K. Rowling before, like John Tiffany. He was in Edinburgh about 20 years ago, at a cafe bar for meetings when he spotted a familiar face, at the same corner, writing away for three hours. “And about 18 months later, she had stopped coming in, but I saw her face in the papers and she’d written this book Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone. And I was like, ‘oh, wow, because I thought she was like, in some terrible play!” he shared his shock with the members of the press, who was there to witness the play in the region for the first time.
Of course Rowling recognised him when he pitched his expertise as a theatre director, and she roped him in. “We’ve been very, very close ever since and I think it’s a long history you know, knowing that I was there when she was writing that first book which then got rejected from 17 publishers,” he proudly told us so. Together with Rowling, and Jack Thorne, the trio went on to develop the plot of Harry Potter and The Cursed Child (HPATCC) together. Written specifically for the theatre, the play is divided into two parts. Each part goes on for a little over two hours – fans can watch the play back-to-back or opt to spread it over two days.
Producer Michael Cassel, who has been following the audience’s reaction from the back of the theatre, was intrigued that the loyal fans have not been sharing spoilers: “I have to say, since we began preview performances here just a few weeks ago, it’s been wonderful watching the audience’s come and have their experience of the theatre, and walk out at the end of part one, you know, whispering to each other, ‘What? Yeah, what’s just happened, what’s going to happen in part two?’”
Melbourne is the third city in the world to host HPATCC, following London and New York. A San Francisco production has also been announced for 2019, along with the first non-English version of the play in Hamburg. Melbourne’s Princess Theatre carries this play, and the response has been phenomenal; tickets have been hard to get by but it only goes to show the magic of Harry Potter is here to stay.
The 132-year-old theatre had undergone maintenance for over six months since February 2018, which included a complete repainting of the entire facade in the original colours, and utilising a historic ‘mineral silica’ paint system. Inside the theatre, be sure the spot the Harry Potter ‘H’ font on the carpets and wallpaper, as well as the ‘nest’ at the exterior of the theatre. The nest and child together weighs about 1,000kg, and was first hoisted in London, where it sits on top of the Palace Theatre canopy. In New York, two nests can be found on 42nd Street and atop a billboard site on 43rd Street.
The Australian/Kiwi production is made up of a crew of 70 and cast of 42, led by Gareth Reeves as Harry Potter, Lucy Goleby as his wife Ginny Potter and Sean Rees-Wemyss as their son Albus Potter; Gyton Grantley as Ron Weasley, Paula Arundell as Hermione Granger and Manali Datar as their daughter Rose Granger-Weasley; Tom Wren as Draco Malfoy and William McKenna as his son Scorpius Malfoy.
The storyline follows Harry Potter’s son Albus Severus, who is a true rebel at heart, but enrols at Hogwarts just like his father, and meets Scorpius Malfoy, (yes Harry’s nemesis Draco’s son). They both form a strong friendship which leads them to an interesting maze of self-discovery, loyalty and smarts.
As a newbie who’s not read the books, nor watch the films, the storyline for HPATCC was easy to follow – each character has enough stage time to build out the specifics of their roles – but I’d missed certain throwbacks relevant to the films. Still, what I really like was the choreography surrounding the props, a mastery of the dance and movements in flowy capes and gowns, which you could tell it was beautifully made to measure. There were a few ‘magical’ moments on stage, theatre tricks if we must say, but I won’t spoil it for you.
This trip was sponsored by Visit Victoria and Qantas Airways. Qantas Airways flies to Melbourne twice daily. For more info: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/au/