Review: Harry Potter and The Cursed Child at The Palace Theatre

The magic of theatre is a hard thing to describe. With the right play, the story comes to life and it just works. So, when Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a story with fantasy at its core – makes its way to the historic Palace Theatre in London, one can imagine that the end result is a production wonderfully creative and immersive.

It’s understandable for Potter fans to question how the Wizarding World of Harry Potter translates onto the stage, when there’s certain restraints and no CGI on hand to help. Naturally, Potterheads want to see the Boy Who Lived and his universe accurately portrayed in this new medium. It’s most likely this faith to the story, combined with a curiosity as to how the cast pull off the magical aspects of the plot which has led to hundreds of theatre buffs buying tickets to the play. However, for those who are yet to nab a seat, they can be reassured that the stage has allowed the magic of Harry Potter to be blossom in an entirely different way to the films. Readers who were quick to label Harry Potter and the Cursed Child an embarrassing and cringeworthy fan fiction after the script was released should wait until they have seen the play before they question whether the story should be canon.

It’s a show which makes you recognise the work of those behind the scenes as much as it does of those who are performing. The opening scene throws you straight into the story, which is no doubt helped by Steven Hoggett’s smooth choreography and Imogen Heap’s soundtrack which was stunning throughout. One must also appreciate the use of lighting, too, which certainly helped to set and alter the play’s tone as the story progressed.

The play managed to achieve something which the movies failed to do for me, and that was actually create this feeling that I was at Hogwarts and a part of this world. This is no doubt down to this off-stage and on-stage collaboration, combined with the fact that it takes place in The Palace Theatre, an old building which certainly has a Hogwarts feel to it both inside and out.

Then there’s the actors and actresses. Admittedly, it felt like it took a while before some of the character’s dialogue became ‘genuine’, but one could argue that that was a result of my own apprehension. Nevertheless, Samuel Blenkin delivers an incredible performance as the socially awkward and over-excitable Scorpius Malfoy. Offering both pure emotion and comic relief, Blenkin fleshes out a likeable character the audience sympathises with. When working alongside the talented Theo Ancient (Albus Potter), the two create a tale of friendship that’s uplifting throughout. It’s also worth applauding Thomas Aldridge’s hilarious portrayal of Ron Weasley, Rakie Ayola’s sassy Hermione Granger and Gideon Turner’s performance as Harry Potter, which was exceptionally raw in certain scenes. Yet, as mentioned previously, everyone involved in the production should be given credit for the team effort. The fact that the cast pronounce Voldemort the correct way (Vol-de-MOR) was a nice touch.

However, much like how a magician never reveals their secrets, it would be wrong to unveil all of the technicalities that go into making this play what it is. Audience members were also sent a video from J. K. Rowling after the performance pleading for them to #KeepTheSecrets, so there’s that.

You just have to go and see it, if you’re lucky enough…

Theatrical Reflections from a Rain-Painted Window

Rain pelts the windows of my Thameslink train as I type this. I’m on my way to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre, and if I was able to see both parts of the play before 7pm, then my review would be up today. As that isn’t happening, I thought it would be worth talking about my experiences at the cinema, and why I’m starting to prefer going to the theatre instead of seeing a film.

An obvious point to begin with is the accessibility of cinemas today. Whilst the one where I live has a few subtitled showings, living with a hearing family with their own schedules has meant seeing films without subtitles (not to mention the fact that most subtitled performances can be shown at inconvenient times of the day). From Marley and Me to Deadpool, I can still laugh and cry at what’s happening on screen, but I miss out on the plot that comes through dialogue. This is probably why it took me so long as a child to realise that TV shows were meant to be listened to as well as watched.

However, to blame it all on accessibility would be unreasonable of me. Another reason is the fact that I’ve always been a book nerd as opposed to a movie buff. Sitting in uncomfortable seats struggling to hear just didn’t appeal to me, compared to imagining the story for yourself from the comfort of your own home.

It’s become a question of time investment. Will it be worth spending two hours concentrating on this movie, trying to hear it? Will it demand my attention or will I get bored? It’s why I now have a certain criteria for a film to meet in full or in part before I decide to see it.

  1. It has received rave reviews.
  2. It contains an actor I like.
  3. It’s based off a book I like.
  4. The trailer looks good.

However, with a play, this criteria doesn’t apply, and the accessibility is better. Granted, there’s still no subtitles (unless you’re seeing a captioned performance) but the audio quality is better. Then there’s the sense of atmosphere in the theatre which can only be achieved in the cinema with a horror movie/thriller or by breaking the fourth wall.

But to revert back to the time investment point, I guess it’s something I’ve had for many years now when you consider some of the film classics I haven’t seen:

Titanic, E.T., Alien, Predator, The Shawshank Redemption, Love Actually, The Great Escape, Forrest Gump, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Die Hard, Casablanca, 2001: A Space Oddysey, The Back to the Future trilogy, Fight Club, The Terminator, The Social Network, Psycho,  Trainspotting, Speed, Saving Private Ryan, The Shining, Guardians of the Galaxy, Schindler’s List, Jaws, Goodfellas… 

This revelation often has my friends staring in disbelief and firing me shocked or angry looks, but film isn’t really my thing. Perhaps if I have some time to see more captioned performances, this may change, but for now, I’m looking forward to Harry Potter and seeing more plays in the future.

Accessible theatre: Seeing a relaxed performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

If you’ve been around since November 2015, you’ll know just how much I love the play, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. An extraordinary tale about the unique mind of Christopher Boone, I fell in love with its sheer emotiveness. So, when the opportunity came up for me to see it for a second time, of course I said yes.

Curious Incident Theatre Sign
I was able to see the show for the second time on Monday night. This time at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

However, unlike the first performance, this one was a little bit different. For the first time as a theatre-goer, I attended a relaxed performance of a play, with my good friend Connor, who is autistic.

Ahead of the performance, I had a few questions in mind. The main one being what changes to the show would there be? At the start, for example, there are a sequence of flashes. With sharp lights being a possible issue for some autistic people, seeing how they would deal with that was interesting.

Luckily, I found a video online which explained some of the changes: a reduction in strobe lighting, the theatre doors remaining open throughout, and the audience lights staying on for the whole show too. If anything, most of the changes were to calm the intensity of theatre, and it worked. It certainly felt relaxed whilst also remaining powerful and emotive when it needed to be.

Another thing I noticed was a sheet of paper detailing some of the aspects of the show which may be an issue, including shouting, lighting and sound effects which audience members should be aware of. Yet another thing which helped to put the minds of audience members at ease.

All of this had us nicely prepared for the show itself. I won’t go into too much detail about it (see my first review for that), but in short, it was another emotive, raw and magical performance. I was left buzzing, even though I had seen the play already.

Curious Cast on Stage
Some of the cast came out afterwards to answer questions from the audience.

What was even more exciting was the question and answer session with the cast and director afterwards. With this not being something offered after the first performance I saw, I was excited to put some questions to the actors, including the importance of silence in the play (how much is too much) and memory tips – these actors have to remember some complex lines indeed! It was also great to hear the cast discuss autism, too, and their approach to the issue.

Liam with actor Sam Newton
Actor Sam Newton, who plays Christopher in the current UK tour.

Thanks, once again, must go to Sam Newton (who played Christopher) for stopping for a quick photo, as well as the rest of the cast. It was a phenomenal performance. A big thank you as well to the Birmingham Hippodrome, who were able to make the show accessible to so many people.

Musical Discovery: ‘Maths Appendix’ by Adrian Sutton (from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time)

Admittedly, I’ve never used to be a fan of soundtracks. Maybe it’s because I didn’t pay attention to the music whilst I was watching the movie or play. However, over time I’ve started to notice them. First, it was Find You by Zedd feat. Miriam Bryant and Matthew Koma. Now, after seeing The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time last month, I was blown away by how imaginative and emotive the music was. So, for today’s Musical Discovery, I review Maths Appendix by Adrian Sutton.

With Maths Appendix combining euphoric violin melodies with fluttering electronic effects, this song from the soundtrack certainly creates intrigue. I shall not spoil the play, but this song is from an upbeat part of the play, and the track definitely proves that. Also, in terms of how it ties in with the story as a whole, the synth melodies can be seen as conveying Christopher’s logical mindset, whilst the strings show the character’s creative side. Even if these assumptions are wrong, it’s such a magical piece of music regardless. Aside from this one song, the entire soundtrack for the play by Adrian Sutton is incredible.

What do you think of the soundtrack? Have you seen the play? Comment below!

Liam

Review: The National Theatre’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’

Mark Haddon’s award-winning novel explores the imaginative world of an extraordinary mind. In the National Theatre’s stage adaptation, the story is a beautifully translated performance.

Source: curiousonstage.com
Even before the show starts, we get to see the atmospheric stage design – a large cube with bright lights and various boxes placed around the stage. We also see an incredibly convincing dead dog – Wellington – with a pitchfork through it.

Then suddenly, thumping music and flashing lights start the show and set the mood. This happens throughout the play, as atmospheric music combines with stunning lighting and visual effects.

Chris Ashby stole the show with his performance of Christopher Boone. The script contains numerous details such as full postal addresses, mathematical equations and sequences. I take my hat off to Ashby for being able to recall all the information for the show. Alongside that, his performance of a character with ‘behavioural problems’ (which many readers have taken to be Asperger’s or autism) is accurate, respectful and insightful. With Ashby being the centre of the play, his ability to remember so many lines and maintain an excellent performance throughout is to be commended.

But as well as that, it’s the play’s minimalistic style which makes the show unique. Supporting actors play multiple roles and also partake in choreographed scenes and physical theatre. There are no set changes, so the screen displays describe the atmosphere for us. It is simply brilliant.

Lastly, I have to talk about the adaptation from book to play. In particular, it’s fair to say that the stage show adds so much more to Mark Haddon’s work. There’s definitely more emotion that cannot be translated as well in book form. But also, there’s one aspect of the first act of the play which I considered to be fantastic when you think about it in detail.

At the start of the play, Geraldine Alexander (whose role is Christopher’s teacher Siobhan – amongst others) narrates Christopher’s diary and internal thought processes. This is alongside the spoken dialogue by Chris Ashby.

For me, I took this to be an exploration of the two sides of a complex condition such as autism – the internal thought processes of the individual and what other people see on the outside. If this is the intention, then it is a great artistic decision and adaptation from the first person narrative in the novel.

It is this effect in the play – combined with excellent acting and an engaging set design – which enables the audience to get a deeper insight into the complex and magnificent mind of Christopher Boone.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Liam