Tag Archives: Theatre

All the Feelings I Had During Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in Order

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Jamie Parker as Harry Potter. Photo: Manuel Harlan

WARNING: this post contains the sort of mild, vague-detail spoilers that you can find in any of the newspaper reviews that came out this week. You may wish to be completely unspoiled till the script comes out on Sunday, and if so, you have my hearty permission to withdraw. 

It’s been three weeks since we went to London and saw Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I still think about it once every other day, probably. Sat in the nosebleed seats at the crumbly-Victorian Palace Theatre, all gold leaf and red velvet, I listened to a group of students behind us having self-consciously arty conversation, and the couple in their mid-forties on our right talking about DIY, and thought how strange it was that Harry Potter had gathered us all here in one place. Had the lady next to me read Deathly Hallows on the Tube, in one of those subdued-cover adult editions so as to draw less attention? Had the kids in their early twenties followed Harry and Voldemort from the moment they were old enough to read? I wondered this because, as the lights went down and rose again on Platform 9 3/4, a great, collective gasp went up from the audience, whoever they were: a sort of yearning, joyful, bittersweet nostalgia. We were back, after years of being away.

It took only a few minutes for the old characters to reassert themselves. Jamie Parker was recognisably Harry, Harry with twenty years under his belt: still damaged, heroic, emotional, sometimes bullish to the point of being obnoxious. (There was a moment towards the end of Part One when he went Full Book Five Harry. And we all thought ‘Man. We don’t miss Book Five Harry’.) Noma Dumezweni made a calmly authoritative Hermione, clearly having spent a couple of decades Getting Stuff Done. Paul Thornley is a loose and hilarious Ron: still wise-cracking, still clumsily sincere. Ginny (Poppy Miller) and Draco (Alex Price) got a little less room to breathe, but still established their characters and gave a sense of growth and change.

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Paul Thornley as Ron Weasley and Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Granger. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The new characters had a tougher sell, having to create a personality in a few strokes without a wave of audience goodwill to ride on. They were wonderful: Rose Weasley (Cherrelle Skeete) fiery and stubborn; Albus Potter (Sam Clemmett) totally convincing as a prickly, whiny fifteen-year-old resenting his famous father’s legacy; Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle) a sweet, nerdy goofball who got huge laughs every time he opened his mouth.

The plot (without giving any important details away) takes the form of a complex, time-travelling quest full of alternative realities, prophecies, hauntings and the return of friends and foes. There were enough revelations to power a million new Tumblr posts, and we all gasped in unison and clutched each other’s hands. There were several moments where beloved, long-lost characters walked back on stage and the entire audience let out cries of welcome and sadness. Characters resolved old issues and laid lingering demons to rest. I’m making it sound like an emotional orgy. Imagine thousands of Potterheads together, reading a new, eighth book aloud: it sort of was.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan

What really made it, though, were the special effects. The movies let you see the magic, of course, but you’re always at a remove, on the other side of the screen. Watching magic in front of your eyes is something else. Actors changing instantly into wizard’s robes, taking Polyjuice potion, leaping up and down moving staircases, using the secret entrance to the Ministry of Magic, having a magic duel, complete with flying chairs, flashes and bangs: all so delightful that our mouths fell open. Other set pieces – a dreamy underwater scene, a fiery Patronus dancing in the dark, Dementors extending skeletal hands from fluttering cloaks – were so atmospherically beautiful we held our breaths until they were done.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan

It was the very thing. The real thing. It did what books and theatre do better than any other medium, I think: it brought Harry Potter back to life around us, letting us back into a world we’d left years ago, returning to find that everything was different, but still, essentially and marvellously, just the same.

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2many feelings 2handle.

250 000 more seats are being released on 4th August (for shows in 2017). GET SOME, even if you have to pay in blood.

Theatrecraft

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Stratford-Upon-Avon is essentially a Shakespeare theme park town. I say this not to be disparaging, but to insist that you go. There are not enough Shakespeare-themed items in this world, and I would like to caress more of them with my cheek, please. And who can blame the local authorities for wanting to make the most of their most famous inhabitant? I would. We don’t know much about Shakespeare, but we know he was born and buried in Stratford-Upon-Avon, damnit! Tim and I spent two days there last week, and I loved every minute of it with a holy and flaming love.

Firstly, we were there to watch the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, on successive days. Do you know how much I love Hilary Mantel? Surely you do. I was on pins for these plays, worried that they might not live up to my sky-high expectations, but they were VERY good indeed. The Swan Theatre is small, wooden, creaky and atmospheric (possibly not creaky – that might’ve just been the atmosphere). Ben Miles made a witty and razor-sharp Cromwell, Nathaniel Parker was volatile and vulnerable by turns as Henry VIII, and there wasn’t a weak link in the cast as a whole. We were leaning precariously against a metal pole for most of the six hours – standing tickets only, alas – and I didn’t even notice.

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I loved the RSC theatre, too. They’ve done a revamp of the building since I was last here, and on Thursday afternoon we went on a backstage tour. This was fabulously exciting – wig rooms, costume change notices on walls, and lots of fascinating behind-the-scenes information. Our tour guide was brilliant. I tell you what: being part of a repertory company is hard. Only do it if you have a passion for words and wigs.

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We sat in the vast, echoey theatre while the stagehands hammered together a new set: a wooden throne stood empty and portentous on the stage, ready for Henry IV to fill it this week. ‘Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown’, he’ll say, so I’m not sure he’ll want to sit there long. (This was the point I decided to stop being so melodramatic.)

On one of the afternoons, just after Wolf Hall had finished, we saw a sweaty Nathaniel Parker come back into the bar while we hunted for my missing scarf. We were lame (and/or considerate) and didn’t say anything to him, and I hope my burning look was enough to communicate YOU WERE A LIFE-CHANGING HENRY, DEAR SIR, AND I THANK YOU FOR IT.

Also, a dressing-up box.

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In between all this larking about in the theatre, we ate a lot and wandered around the town, spending the night in a country house hotel fifteen minutes away. We popped out for chocolate ice cream at 9pm and read, uninterrupted. This is what passes for rock and roll living for us these days, but do you know what? It was rock and roll. It was just wonderful. 

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Go. Enjoy. Try the beef pie at Garrick’s Inn – it’s enormous.

Oh, and just so you know, eleven years pass extraordinarily quickly. But not quickly enough for me to get a new coat, apparently.

Bloggington

Les Miserables: if at first you don’t succeed, cry, cry again

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(Credit: AP Photo/Universal Pictures)

My friends, this is where I out myself as a middle-aged woman.

I am in love with Les Miserables. I have been since my piano teacher plonked an easy version of ‘On My Own’ in front of me, all of fifteen years ago. We’ve only seen it on stage once, but I know the soundtrack back to front. It’s a little embarrassing. But by heck you do not want to get between me and my Javert impression. I do ‘Stars’ best when I’ve got a head cold, but I’m basically ready to let it rip at any moment. And you should hear my ‘One Day More’, my goodness. It brings tears. Not usually for the right reasons.

So you’d forgive me for a tiny bit of fear as we went to the cinema last night to see Hugh Jackman et al. prancing around in sideburns. The original London cast have rich and satisfying voices: when Valjean and Javert have their confrontations it’s like Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart leapt out of their X-Men costumes and started duelling in song, rumbling bass to rumbling bass.

Not so many quicksilver voices in this film. Hugh Jackman is a little reedy at times – ‘Bring Him Home’ is so out of his register that my immediate thought was that he’d trapped his most personal part in a kitchen drawer by accident. I wanted them to bring back the Bishop from the first scene – Colm Wilkinson, Mr Quicksilver himself, who played the original Valjean – and have him sing that little number instead. And Russell Crowe sounds a little like he’s warbling the karaoke version to himself in his living room. He sings like a bear. A bear with tiny lung capacity, but lots of enthusiasm.

None of this matters, though – except for the aforementioned kitchen drawer incident – because the emotion hits you between the eyes before you’re ten minutes in. The camera can do that in a way theatre cannot: sailing high in the air to gasp at the spectacle, before diving in to watch the rain trembling in anguished fashion on someone’s eyelashes. In this sort of story, the rain does that a lot. Les Miserables is about second chances, rescued children, injustice, hollowed dreams, ignominious failure, love and sacrifice, ultimate redemption. All of which is so much more convincing and resonant in close-up (there were several moments that made much more sense when you could see the thought process behind them). A tale like this feeds off choked-up sobbing. It needs your heart to soar. If the emotion works, everything works. And so here, it works.

Jackman is completely convincing as the haunted ex-convict transformed by an act of mercy. Eddie Redmayne and Amanda Seyfried are quite lovely as Marius and Cosette (I had to close my eyes to better appreciate the last harmonies in ‘A Heart Full of Love’). Samantha Barks is a fierce and poignant Eponine. Russell Crowe…well, Russell Crowe can really ride a horse. And Anne Hathaway. Whenever I think about Anne Hathaway in this film, all of my thoughts turn into capital letters. ANNE HATHAWAY, you guys. That bitter, passionate song about a shattered life, sung six inches from an unforgiving camera lens. Oh gosh, ANNE HATHAWAY. She broke my heart. Give that woman an Oscar, quickly. And then let her eat something.

I cried, and ached for them, and wanted them to be happy, and so it worked. ‘To love another person is to see the face of God’, they sing at the end, as Valjean is beckoned through rosy light towards something better. And as I swallowed frantically and brushed popcorn out of my hair and wiped my eyes on my scarf, I felt it. Musicals can do that, sometimes. I still think Les Miserables does it best.

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