Melbourne’s magical moment with Harry Potter And The Cursed Child
You don’t have to fly all the way to London or New York to catch Harry, Hermione and the gang onstage. CNA Lifestyle was in Melbourne to check out the opening of the highly-anticipated Harry Potter And The Cursed Child.
Not everyone can boast of being in the same room where Harry Potter was born, but theatre director John Tiffany certainly has bragging rights.
Twenty years ago, the former literary director at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre recalled how he would hang out at the theatre’s cafe bar and often see JK Rowling hard at work.
“I kept seeing this woman and we would wave to each other. She would sit there for about three hours and she had a pram. About 18 months later, I saw her face in the papers with this book called Harry Potter And The Philosopher’s Stone,” he said.
Tiffany would eventually become friends with Rowling and, fast forward to today, he’s here at the other side of the world to oversee the latest tale in the Potter saga come to life onstage in Melbourne.
HARRY POTTER AND THE MELBOURNE EXPERIENCE
After wowing crowds at London and New York City, Harry Potter And The Cursed Child is now expected to work its magic in the Land Down Under.
The two-part play – which has gone on to become the most awarded in theatre history, including nine Olivier and six Tony Awards – is undoubtedly the biggest art event in Melbourne this year.
The city’s streets are lined with streamers and every night, for the past couple of weeks, Gryffindor scarf-wearing millennials or kids in wizard robes converge at one end of Spring Street.
After a series of preview shows, the Australian production officially opened over the weekend at the Princess Theatre. Tickets for the next few months are proving hard to come by, but a new block of tickets is set to open on Feb 26 for shows that run until Feb 2020. Harry Potter isn’t leaving Melbourne any time soon.
And there’s a reason why the play is selling like hotcakes: The all-Australian/New Zealand production is only the third one since Harry Potter And The Cursed Child opened at the West End in 2016 and Broadway last year.
It’s also the first original company since London, which explains the hands-on presence of Tiffany, who collaborated with Rowling and playwright Jack Thorne, on bringing the story to life from day one.
In fact, he told members of the media that there are certain tweaks he’s done for the Melbourne show that’ll eventually find its way to the two other productions. “This has got to be the version that all of those will be based on,” he said.
It’s been a big coup for the Melbourne theatre scene, added producer Michael Cassel, who shared that prior to deciding on the city, Sydney had been considered as well.
“We’ve been able to enjoy the dedication and involvement of the original creative team that nurtured the show from the very beginning, sold the show up on its feet in the West End, went and mounted it up on Broadway last year and now with us on Melbourne,” he said.
For the uninitiated muggle, the two-part show (which audiences can either watch over two days or as a back-to-back, five-hour-plus marathon) picks up exactly from where the books and movies left off.
It follows the story of Harry Potter’s rebellious son Albus Severus, who enters Hogwarts and meets unlikely buddy-for-life, the endearingly awkward Scorpius Malfoy (aka his father’s nemesis Draco’s own son).
What happens next? Wikipedia and the Internet aside, the show’s producers have been very particular about not giving any spoilers away (#KeepTheSecrets is one of the show’s main hashtags).
Suffice to say, the creators have pulled out the stops to conjure a spectacle-filled show filled with visual trickery straight out of the circus, sleight-of-hand wizardry and, well, heartfelt good-bad parenting moments.
Expect lots of time travelling, characters old and new, some nifty wand action and an underwater scene that would make Aquaman’s CGI magic seem meh.
Tiffany describes the stage aesthetics as “rough magic, which is based on the philosophy of poor theatre – which is ‘let’s make a train out of suitcases’.”
“One of my absolute priorities was I did not want theatre to make Harry Potter boring, so it had to go as epic a journey, as epic a scope – it couldn’t be, like, Beckett writes Harry Potter. There he is in a kitchen going, 'Oh, I never had a mum and dad…'. We had to bring back evil,” said Tiffany, who pointed out that 70 per cent of the show’s audiences have been first-time theatre-goers.
STEPPING INTO HARRY POTTER’S SHOES
For the cast, it’s been a privilege stepping into the shoes of some of the most recognisable literary and movie characters in the world.
“I read the books when I was in my early 20s and loved them. I remember dressing up as Harry for a fancy dress party once. Harry is great at parties,” quipped Gyton Grantley, who plays adult Ron Weasley.
Gareth Reeves, who’ll likely be bearing the brunt of Daniel Radcliffe comparisons as the show’s Harry Potter, has interestingly described the adult version as a kind of “war veteran still carrying a lot of guilt and pain”.
“He has a high-pressure job and doesn’t know how to be a parent. He’s juggling a lot,” he said, adding that he actually watched documentaries on combat post-traumatic stress disorder for the role.
The magical trinity is rounded up by Paula Arundell, who’s well aware that many will already have a Hermione Granger in mind when they enter the theatre. “Fans of Hermione will come with their own version of who they think Hermione is in their own unique imagining and it’s my job to give them that, plus parts of Hermione they never knew existed.”
Meanwhile, it’s a bit easier for the younger actors Sean Rees-Wemyss and William McKenna, who play Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, respectively.
“I am a huge Harry Potter fan, like the majority of my generation. The books were the first stories I was addicted to. When the movies came out, my love for Harry Potter grew as it was visualised and popularised to an even wider audience,” shared McKenna.
Meanwhile, Rees-Wemyss recalled being drawn to the world at a very young age. “I’ve been a Harry Potter fan since I was about five years old when my dad read the books to my older sister and I, and even though I was terrified, I made him let me stay in the room so I could keep listening.”
DREAM COME TRUE
And it’s not just onstage that the play’s production team has worked its magic – the theatre venue itself has been given copious amounts of polyjuice.
The 165-year-old Princess Theatre has been transformed into a place fit for the wizarding world – a six-month revamp at the start of 2018 saw everything from the wallpaper to the light fittings, the seat colours, and even the carpet and walls featuring the Hogwarts emblem.
“It’s all about the Harry Potter palette. When you arrive in the theatre, that journey, that experience of feeling the presence of that magical world around you literally starts as you walk through the doors,” said John Marriner, whose family runs the theatre.
Which has been the case for audiences, whether they’re from the city or flying in from elsewhere (broomsticks, optional). For Melbourne-residents, to have Harry Potter And The Cursed Child right in their backyard was a dream come true.
“I’m a huge fan. I had read the play book and watching it come alive was so much better, especially the magic and everything was done really well,” said Natasha, who was in the queue and looking forward to Part Two after catching the first one the day before.
Her friend Jaawid added: “When we went on a trip to London, we wanted to watch it there but because our trip was short, we couldn’t cram it. We’re grateful that Melbourne got it because we live here.”
This trip was made possible by Visit Victoria and Qantas Airways. Qantas Airways flies to Melbourne twice daily.
For more info on Harry Potter And The Cursed Child in Melbourne, visit https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/au/
MELBOURNE BEYOND HARRY POTTER
Planning to watch the show? You can’t spend your entire trip in the queue to watch Harry Potter And The Cursed Child (even if it’s already two shows). Here are some tips on how to make that Melbourne trip even more worth your while, before and after a night or two at the theatre.
WHAT DO TO: Melbourne has a reputation for being the cultural capital of Australia. And if you’re a theatre buff and happen to be in town this coming week, there’s Evita and The Lady In The Van (starring Professor Sprout herself, Miriam Margolyes). Later this month, you’ve got Jersey Boys and in July, there’s Shakespeare In Love.
If exhibitions are more your thing, the National Gallery Victoria currently has exhibits on MC Escher and Japanese design studio nendo, quirky photographer William Wegman. Later in the year, expect shows on sculptor Alexander Calder and gunpowder artist Cai Guo-Qiang. Alternatively, you can just walk around and explore the street art in the backlanes.
WHERE TO EAT: Aside from culture, food’s yet another thing the city is known for and you’ll be spoiled for choice. Check out Lesa, the relatively new restaurant on top of famous wine bar Embla, or the Asian-inspired Longsong, just walking distance from Princess Theatre.
Want to stay put? The theatre’s Federici Bistro is named after its famous ghost – a must in every theatre venue and its own answer to Harry Potter’s Moaning Myrtle. Coffee, of course, is a given – and a must-stop is Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, an iconic spot that supposedly had the city’s first espresso machine. If chocolate is more your thing, there’s a nearby branch of Koko Black, which has a sitting area for a spot of hot gourmet chocolate and dessert.
WHERE TO STAY: There are a lot of accomodation options that are a relative walking distance from the theatre. Park Hyatt Melbourne is one but if you’re aiming for something more chic and black, boutique hotel chain QT has one just a block away from Chinatown.