Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

We arrived in London a couple of weeks before the official opening night of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the new play by Jack Thorne. Previews of the show started opening to the public only a few weeks before. This original story, written in collaboration with J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany, is the eighth installment of the Harry Potter series. It takes place nineteen years after the events described in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is the only story in the series written particularly for a stage.

As Potter fans, my daughters heard a lot about this play long before we decided to go to London. They followed news articles that discussed it. They knew all about the main-character castings and controversy. Like all their friends, they were very curious about the story line. Of course, once they knew we will actually be in London they begged to go watch it. When we looked into it, however, we discovered that tickets, even for the pre-opening rehearsal stage, were sold out months in advance.

As it happened, the place we stayed at turned out to be only a couple of blocks away from the Palace Theater, where the Potter play was showing. And so, as we toured the city, we passed by it almost every day. Sometimes we walked by more than once. And every day our girls asked to go.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, London

We found out that there were two far-fetched ways to get tickets to this popular show. The first was through the Friday Forty. This was an online lottery that took place every Friday at 1:00 pm. It involved releasing forty tickets for the following week. The second was by going to the ticket office and waiting in line to see if any tickets become available for that evening’s show, through returns or cancellations.

Well, we didn’t win the lottery despite spending our first Friday afternoon glued to a screen. When my husband and daughters suggested going to the theater to stand in line the following week, I really thought they were crazy. I told them that there was no way they would get tickets. After all, who in their right mind would give up tickets to this show? I said it would be a waste of a precious day. We could, I argued, continue touring the riches of London instead. And I suggested that they should be content with visiting the Studios, and shouldn’t be greedy.

I absolutely refused to stand in line for hours, in vain, on the cold, dreary street. But they insisted, and were willing to wait all day long if needed. So my son and I left them standing in line. The two of us went back to our apartment, expecting to pass the entire afternoon pursuing quiet activities.

To my utter surprise they texted an hour later. Not only were they able to get tickets, but they were able to get them for the entire family. And not only did they get five tickets, but four of them were for the best seats in the house, at the center of one of the very front rows. The fifth was further out, but still on the first floor. WHAT?!?!?!?!

 

Thrilled after getting Harry Potter Play tickets!

The girls were in heaven! That afternoon our apartment was filled with wild cries of happiness and ecstatic dances. This was followed by earnest preparations, as we all attired our nicest travel clothes and got ready for theater. (Alas, we each had only one pair of well-worn sneakers).

Dancing with Harry Potter Play tickets!

We arrived at the theater more than an hour early. Still, we found a LONG line of people already snaking around the building, filling the entire block:

Lines to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, London

The palace Theater opened as an opera house in 1891, and hosted an array of famous musical since. A gilded, majestic building, it was an appropriate setting for the Potter play:

The Palace Theater, London

The play comes in two parts, on two consecutive nights. Since the script was not yet released when we watched it, we all got pins after the first part ended, asking us to “Keep the Secrets.”

Keep the Secret!

We have never been to a two-part play before, and we absolutely loved it! After the first night our seats already felt like home. We all thought we could easily get used to this and just keep coming, night after night.

Now the script is already published and is available for all to read. Therefore, I will not write about the story itself. Personally, the story didn’t impress me. I thought it didn’t have a lot of new content. But the play was absolutely AMAZING! The acting was superb even in that rehearsal performance, the character casting didn’t bother me at the least, and the special effects were really awesome! Favorite spells like Polyjuice transformations and even flying looked wonderfully convincing. The magic felt very real, even up close.

My daughters ranked this experience as the second highlight of our trip.I ranked it pretty high on my list, too. So, if you plan to head over to London any time soon, I would strongly recommend not reading the script and seeing the play instead. It’s worth it!

The Making of Harry Potter: Visiting Warner Bros. Studios in Watford

We could not complete our Harry Potter London trip without a visit to The Making of Harry Potter, the self-guided tour at the Warner Bros. Studios in Watford. We booked the tickets for this tour several months in advance, immediately after booking the flight. For my kids, this was hands down one of the two highlights of our summer trip.

We spent an entire day at the Studios. There, we oohed and aahed over sets, props, costumes and everything else associated with the making of the movies. Indeed, there was much to admire! The level of creativity, imagination, talent and professionalism involved was truly mind-blowing. J.K. Rowling created a magical world through words (and became vastly famous for it). Translating this world into genuine-looking places and objects, however, required immensely hard work by hundreds of equally-talented (yet mostly anonymous) people. Meticulous attention to detail was evident everywhere, from the building of large sets to the design of the smallest prop. Everything was exceptionally well done, and convincingly real-looking, even from up close.

The first part of the tour took us through some of the filming sets, both big and small. This, for example, is the tiny set of Harry’s room under the staircase. It looked as if Harry was about to return at any moment:

And here is the Great Hall of Hogwarts, which looked and FELT like a magical, medieval, solid-stone structure:

Only to be revealed as a thin plaster facade from the back:

The homes, dormitories and classrooms that appear in the movies looked amazingly realistic and lived-in. This, for example, is Snape’s Potions classroom:

One of my favorite sets was Diagon Alley, which was built for the first movie and then used for all eight. It was exactly the kind of authentic-feeling, old-world street I try (and often fail) to find in my travels, the kind of place I fantasize about. I would have loved to visit some of the stores on this alley (and linger for a long while at a magical fabrics store, had there only been one!):

Even props that were used only once were made to perfection. Here is an appetizing dessert table, looking convincingly chocolaty, but obviously made of something else:

And some of Prof. Umbridge’s outfits, sewn from deliciously-textured PINK fabrics:

The Black Family Tapestry was a true work of art, surpassing real medieval tapestries I’ve seen in museums. We were told that this was originally supposed to appear on one wall only, but that once the graphic designers were done with it the directors decided to dedicate an entire room to this masterpiece:

The Black Family tree

The tour went through a restaurant, where we tasted butterbeer, and through a courtyard that hosted the magical sleeper bus and Hagrid’s motorcycle, among other things. For the second part it took us behind the scenes, offering a glimpse into the thousands of hours put in by the army of super-talented people who made the movies what they are. There were painters who imagined what each character looked like:

Dobby the house elf

Sculptors and others artists made the masks for all the special characters. Here, for example, are goblin masks:

Goblin masks

Technicians and robotics experts who made costumes come to life:

There were architects who designed the sets:

And people who built the models:

Each and every professional and artist involved, no matter their field, earned my utter respect.

The tour ended in the gift shop, where artists of a different kind performed a different kind of magic:

We left the Studios with full hearts, full bags and empty wallets.