It was some five years in the making, ran for 14 months at the Princess Theatre, brought in an estimated $244 million to the Victorian economy and was seen by a record-breaking 326,500 people before the fateful day last March when it was closed and suspended for 343 days.
So day one of rehearsals for the reopening of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was filled with tears, excitement, trepidation and more than a little magic. On February 25, the show will open again.
Associate director Naomi Edwards told the assembled 42 cast and 70 crew members that they were experiencing more than just an average first day back at work: “As theatre people, this is our home so this is our homecoming.”
And it’s not only the cast and crew keen to get back into the theatre. “Since announcing that we’re reopening we’ve seen a spike in ticket sales so we know audiences want to return to the theatre and have confidence in the process of entering the theatre safely,” executive producer Michael Cassel said.
But there were times when reopening Harry seemed like it would need more than a good spell. Gareth Reeves, who plays the boy wizard, said he had so much doubt it would ever happen that he considered returning to his home country New Zealand before the borders closed.
“I kept holding onto this idea we’d be back in a month and was trying to hold all this information about the play in my body but I had to let go of the idea of ever doing it again. I had to live my life, be present, go for walks, make bread and I got a dog,” Reeves said.
Reeves channelled his performance instinct into overly enthusiastic bedtime reading sessions with his son, 6, who suggested he try not to be so entertaining because it was keeping him awake instead of lulling him off to sleep.
“I already feel I’m not the same person I was 10 months ago, as I look into the eyes of my fellow performers,’’ Reeves said.
“We’re all gently searching out who we are again, listening to each other’s stories and re-finding each other. Acting is all about truthful, deep connection with another person and that’s something we haven’t had a lot of lately. I’m very excited and thrilled to be back but I’m not taking anything for granted. None of us are.’’
For Lucy Goleby, who plays Ginny Weasley, being off stage at least allowed her to tend with her newborn baby, Mair, who she shares with her partner, the show’s assistant producer Rhys Holden.
Goleby joined her cast members in a weekly Zoom reading of the play’s massive script but nothing could prepare her for the moment this week when she brought Ginny back to the stage.
“I said my opening line last Tuesday and was about to burst into tears,’’ Goleby said. “I didn’t know if I’d ever get to say that line again. It’s going to be something else to say it in front of an audience.”
Manali Datar, whose role as Rose Granger-Weasley was her professional theatre debut, found it more difficult to adjust to life without a strict schedule and the support of her theatre family.
She’s will spend more time with the production’s voice coach to restore her English accent but says the role is still fresh in her muscle memory.
“Having got through the last 10 months will mean so much more for us and for audiences to watch and be involved in this beautiful story about loneliness, self-discovery and finding yourself,” Datar said.
Edwards is guiding her cast through that process but is already impressed with their energy to be back.
“A lot of emotions are welling up for us – tears, excitement, a bit of fear, uncertainty and also the passion to come back,” Edwards said. “The feeling of arriving back into our purpose is really exciting.”
Cassel said audiences would still be transported to another world despite COVID-19 health precautions.
“It’s a controlled environment but, once they’re in their seats, I’d be surprised if they even realised that,” Cassel said.
Some of the measures in place include relinquishing the full houses Cursed Child enjoyed during its first 14 months in favour of 85 per cent capacity and there will be weekly COVID-19 testing of all cast and crew from February 4. There will be COVID-safe bubbles for front and back of house and there are strict sanitisation measures for cast and crew who have to wear masks when not in costume, make-up or on stage.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child reopens at the Princess Theatre on February 25.
By : Catherine Lambert – THE AGE