In Arts + Entertainment

What To Know Before Seeing Harry Potter And The Cursed Child

There is magic in Melbourne as the stunning stage show of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child opens at the renovated Princess Theatre.

When John Tiffany, a fledgling theatre director was working at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh in the 1990s, he would regularly wave to a woman sitting in the theatre’s café.

“She would sit there for three hours at a time writing in longhand,” says Tiffany. “I assumed she was writing a terrible play that she was going to ask me to read and consider for the theatre.”

After about 18 months the woman stopped coming to the café, but it wasn’t long before Tiffany spotted her name in a newspaper. “It was JK Rowling,” Tiffany says. “And she wasn’t writing a terrible play, but instead she was writing what was going to be the most successful literary franchise ever.”

Tiffany read each of the Harry Potter books and followed Rowling’s career with interest, but it wasn’t until 2014 that their paths crossed again.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. Image: supplied / Matt Murphy

Award-winning theatre producers Sonia Friedman and Colin Callender had approached Rowling with the idea of bringing Harry Potter to the stage, but with Harry as an adult and a parent. Rowling agreed, and Friedman and Callender introduced her to Tiffany, who by that time had become a critically-acclaimed director.

“Jo immediately said, ‘I know you’,” Tiffany recalls. “She thought we had met at a Harry Potter premiere, but I explained we had met nearly 20 years earlier at the café. She told me I was one of her protectors.”

Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne worked with Rowling to develop the plot of the eighth story in the Harry Potter series – Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. It was specifically written for the theatre and is the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.

The red carpet opening gala was on February 23 in Melbourne – the third city to welcome the multi-award-winning play following its world premiere in London in July 2016 and its New York opening in April 2018.

The play is presented in two parts – audiences can see a matinee and an evening performance on the same day, or over two consecutive nights – and picks up 19 years after the final book and the Battle of Hogwarts. The story centres on Harry as a stressed employee at the Ministry of Magic, and his relationship with his youngest son Albus who rebels against the family legacy he inherited but never wanted.

As with all the Harry Potter books, evil is never far away, and Harry, who is world-weary and struggling with parenting – particularly as he had few role models to call upon – is not the heroic Harry we know and love. Instead, history weighs heavily upon him, and Albus’ close friendship with Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius brings Harry’s fear to the surface.

Despite the official script being available to purchase and read, there is still a high level of secrecy around the storyline, with audiences being encouraged to ‘keep the secrets’.

“Every person who wanted to see the films or read the books could pretty much get them on the same day,” says Tiffany, “but with the play it’s like opening Star Wars in one cinema in Los Angeles. But we have found that people do want to wait and see what happens.”

So, without giving anything away, what can you expect?

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is an “enchanting” play presented in Melbourne’s Princess Theatre. Image: supplied / Matt Murphy

Quite simply, prepare to be enchanted. The renovated Princess Theatre has “magic built into the walls”, says Jason Marriner, CEO of the Marriner Group who is responsible for the beautiful playhouse. “The Princess is one of the most iconic lyrical theatres in the world and was the natural home for Harry Potter.”

Theatre renovations began in February 2018, and, for the first time in 132 years, the façade has undergone a complete restoration. But what is most striking is how the interior has been modified to set the mood and tone of the play.

Custom-made adjustments including lantern-bearing dragons, carpet bearing Hogwarts’ insignia, crimson velvet seats and fairy-tale like wallpaper are not only sumptuous, but suggest the play will have a lengthy stay – it’s anticipated to be the longest-running show staged in Melbourne.

Magic is also abounding on the stage. Throughout the fast-paced and unexpectedly-funny play you can hear audience members whispering to each other, “How did they do that?” as wizards duel in slow motion, bundles of messy papers spring into neat piles on a desk and characters physically and emotionally transform in front of your eyes.

But perhaps the best part, and the thing that lingers long after the two sucker punch endings of part one and the interval of part two, is the joy of revisiting the characters that were part of so many people’s lives for the better part of 20 years.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is like being magically transported to see old friends.

Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is now on at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre.

(Lead image: Harry Potter And The Cursed Child / image: Matt Murphy) 

Published 26 February, 2019