Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the theatre event of the year, whether you’re a Potter-head or not.
Smashing records when tickets first went on sale, selling more than 200,000 pre-sale tickets alone, Melbourne has seen the wizard-loving world go nuts for the eighth instalment in the Harry Potter series as it takes reign over the Princess Theatre until May next year.
Based on a story written by JK Rowling that was adapted for the stage, the two-part play is set 19 years after the last book (and final, climactic scene), and is an epic continuation of Rowling’s vividly imagined world of witchcraft, wizardry and all its wars and tumults. Deemed the most successful play in theatre history, collecting 24 major theatre awards in the UK and 25 in the US, the play follows the adventures of the next generation of witches and wizards, namely Harry’s son Albus Severus, after the book’s main characters have entered adulthood.
Brought to life by Sean Rees-Wemyss, a self-confessed Potter-head, Albus is terrified of failing to live up to his legendary family name, he shares a strained relationship with his famous father (Gareth Reeves), who despite the mythic status is still haunted by unresolved traumas from his own childhood. With the theme of parenthood and the troubled relationship between a father and son prevalent throughout the play, Rees-Wemyss turned to his own relationship to in order to give an impressive performance as the troubled Albus.
“I spoke to him a lot about the play, about the script, and about Harry Potter,” says the 22-year-old actor, best known for the hit teen series Nowhere Boys, for the ABC, and the sequel film Nowhere Boys: The Book of Shadows. “Like all fathers and sons, we simultaneously want to be them, be better than them but also want no one else to be better than them.
“Being a teenager was the hardest thing in the world, and I think that’s one of the good things about the play; you see how even if you live in a magical world where you can conjure anything you might need at any given time, having a smooth relationship with your dad still feels like it’s impossible.”
Admitting to becoming somewhat disenfranchised with acting until the Cursed Child came along, Rees-Wemyss turned to his past struggles with mental health and depression to represent the teen vulnerability and bravado, rebellion and insecurity within Albus.
“I was able to turn to my depression and not knowing who I was. As much as there were dark times, Albus was a really dark character. He goes through a really dark time and a really terrible experience and being able to draw on my own personal life for that really helps, because I know there a lot of people who will come to this play and they will see themselves in Albus, and my heart goes out to them because I’m exactly the same,” he reveals. “It was really important to me that I didn’t play him at an arm’s length; I had to expose myself.”
In this epic (and surprisingly relatable) two-part adventure, the power of friendship is another returning theme, as Albus forges an unexpected bond with Scorpius (played with goofy brilliance by William McKenna), the son of his father’s old adversary, Draco Malfoy (Tom Wren).
“One of the really special things about this specific relationship is that you can watch Scorpius and me in five hours and watch our friendship grow,” Rees-Wemyss says. “You see two eleven-year-old adolescent boys who don’t know each other and by the end of the play, at the end of five hours hanging out with us, you see the relationship go through every conceivable way that friendships can go through; the trials, the pain, the tribulations, the triumph, the joy and the love and laughter.”
It’s with these complicated, genuine, emotionally-charged, painfully relatable connections that Cursed Child casts its greatest spell on its audience, going far beyond the bewitching and magical surface.
While the human story-telling in itself exceeds expectations, allowing meaningful pathos and emotional depth, it’s also the breath-taking and jaw-dropping magical effects which craft the play into a rich and detailed immersive experience.
“I still don’t know how certain things work,” the young actor reveals of the level of magic executed within the play. “It’s been over a year since I started, and there are still things that I can’t work out, and it’s almost gotten to that point where I don’t even want to ask. Even if I could, I don’t want to know now… it keeps the magic real.
“It’s simple enough that you just fall in love with the aesthetic of it as much as you do the script. They didn’t reinvent the magic [from the movies], they just took the tools of the theatre and re-contextualised them in a way that allowed for the magic to be re-created in front of your eyes. As a theatre nerd, the moment I realised this was how we were going to do this, I was like this is heaven. This is exactly how I wanted it to be.”
It’s the story, the magic, the actors and of course, the fact it’s the epilogue of the famed JK Rowling’s saga, that make the first Harry Potter show presented on a theatre stage such a mesmerising and magical experience.
“For the diehards, having Harry Potter in front of you is insane. They love him, they love the character, and so to have Harry standing in the flesh before you is unbelievable and incredible,” Rees-Wemyss explains. “I think there is something about seeing magic created in real-time in front of you that is really cool. We build magic in front of you. The film doesn’t give that immediate, roughness in the beautiful way that theatre does – it could go wrong at any time on stage.
“To be sat in a dark room with 1400 of your closest friends watching magic be created before your very eyes, there’s nothing like that. That’s the coolest thing ever.”
While a moderate familiarity with either the books or their film adaptations is perhaps a basic requirement, and it’s clear this play is made for the proud Potter tragics that know and love the story, Rees-Wemyss believes there’s still room for muggles to enjoy the magical piece of storytelling too.
“Look, I’m biased, but I absolutely do [believe they can]. There are a few things at the heart of the story. There’s a beautiful friendship, and there’s a relationship between a father and a son and the difficulties that that causes, and also the difficulties of having a dad that’s like Winston Churchill. Harry Potter, his whole thing was that he saves the world, he stopped Voldemort, and to be that dude’s kid would just be a nightmare. It would be unbelievably difficult, and so I think that in itself is a very interesting story for anyone to see.
“The diehards will get more out of it though,” he laughs, “it is Harry Potter at the end of the day.”
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two are now playing at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. With tickets selling faster than you can wave your wand, you’re going to want to book your visit ASAP.
Photos by Matthew Murphy