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.

A Thousand Words: A Collection of Exciting Occurrences

As the title of this blog post – a discreet reference to A Series of Unfortunate Events – suggests, this week has seen me plan a few concerts and performances for me to look forward to later this year.

The Hoosiers’ debut album, ‘The Trick to Life’ and their second release, ‘The Illusion of Safety’, both have pride of place at my home.

It started with The Hoosiers on Wednesday. The band, famous for their hits Goodbye Mr A and Worried About Ray, are stopping off in Lincoln as part of their Trick to Life 10th Anniversary Tour. Whilst I was fortunate enough to see them live before, their aforementioned debut album lies signed in a CD rack at home, with memories from a decade ago flooding back to me whenever I listen to it now. So, naturally, nostalgia compelled me to buy a ticket.

Yet, with tickets going on sale at 10am on Wednesday, I had feared that they would sell out whilst I was working. Thankfully for me, they didn’t, but anyone who has bought a gig ticket before knows just how urgent and stressful the buying process can be.

Look no further than later that evening, where a surprise notification on my phone warned me that more tickets were going on sale for a popular freshers event at 6pm. Out of the house, with a recently recharged phone, I remember hitting refresh straight after the clock hit 18:00 to tap on the new ticket link. The tickets were bought, and there was no greater feeling.

Finally, with just under three weeks to go until the big day, my tickets arrived for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. However, anxious about the view from the balcony and whether I may be unable to hear and see the performance, I asked about exchanging my tickets for a closer seat, which a wonderful employee at the ticket company was happy to do for me. I now look forward to sitting in the stalls for the show next month.

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.

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

Review: Mega Games with Tom Webb

On a quiet, peaceful September evening, I sat on a deckchair and listened to music. This was part of the Roundabout Festival – a collaboration between Paines Plough and the Lincoln Performing Arts Centre (LPAC) – and I was there to see Mega Games with Tom Webb.

The event itself was held in the Paines Plough Roundabout theatre which, on the outside, certainly looked intriguing. But when we were finally invited to enter the theatre itself, it was surprising to see how large the inside of the structure was. The theatre had a somewhat post-modern design (both inside and outside) and definitely gave off a friendly and homely atmosphere – perfect for Tom Webb’s Mega Games, a show with audience participation at its core.

As we entered the theatre, Tom greeted us before handing us a raffle ticket. Over the course of the evening, he would pull out two tickets and those two people would go head-to-head in a ‘mega game’. Admittedly, I wasn’t so keen on the audience participation aspect of the show (having a spotlight shined on me – with members of the audience all staring at me – can be a little nerve-wracking), but even if you weren’t selected, you could still get involved with the show.

For me, my type of audience participation is when I can blend in with the rest of the crowd. With games such as Mega Basketball and Appleships, those in the audience were given tasks such as creating a basketball hoop with their hands and revealing whether they own an Apple smartphone or not.Aside from the games itself, Tom Webb also did well to add to the silliness of the show itself. When ‘mega gamers’ made their way to the stage, Tom was quick to welcome them to the game and thank them for coming before delivering his own brand of comedy. With Tom creating jokes based on audience members, there was definitely a strong sense of involvement and audience participation – something which made the show interesting and unique.

Then, as the show reached its conclusion, Tom opened the games up to the entire audience by challenging us all to a game of Mega Rock, Paper, Scissors. The evening ended with the top scoring ‘mega gamers’ playing Human Hungry Hippos, where they had to be the first to eat a handful of Skittles out of another person’s hand – certainly a bizarre and silly end to a rather funny evening.

Combining witty humour with silly games and a little bit of nostalgia, Mega Games with Tom Webb is an immersive, mock comedy game show which promises a good laugh alongside light-hearted gaming. 

Rating: 4 out of 5

Liam