The new cast of ‘Harry Potter’ in the West End on making magic onstage

David Ricardo-Pearce and Ellis Rae, who play Harry Potter and Albus Potter in the stage show, share why their characters are so relatable to audiences.

Suzy Evans
Suzy Evans

David Ricardo-Pearce and Ellis Rae had never seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child before joining the West End company as the titular wizard and his youngest son Albus.

Rae avoided the play since Albus was a dream role, and he didn’t want to see another actor’s portrayal. Ricardo-Pearce, meanwhile, is a busy, working father – not unlike Harry in the play – and hadn’t found the time. Now, they’re bringing the wizarding world to life at London’s Palace Theatre.

“You do feel a bit of a responsibility to keep the show brilliant,” Ricardo-Pearce says. “And you feel like you have to give your heart to it and commit to the magic, which is not the stage magic, but the magic of telling the story. [Audiences] want to be transported into the world of Harry Potter for a few hours.

The pair joined the cast at the end of 2023, and they sat down with London Theatre backstage at the Palace Theatre to talk about the story, the show’s staying power, and how they relate to their characters.

What was your relationship with the Harry Potter series before joining the company?

Ellis Rae: I was brought up on a diet of Harry Potter with the books and the films. It was always a world that my family and I have been obsessed with. When I discovered the play, I fell in love with that even more.

David Ricardo-Pearce: I remember when the books came out, I was in my late teens, and I started reading The Philosopher’s Stone. I just remember thinking, ‘this is really good.’ The way that [J.K. Rowling] created an entire imaginary universe that runs in parallel to our universe.

How does your relationship to the original series affect how you approach the roles onstage?

Ricardo-Pearce: When I accepted the job, the first thing I did was reread the books. It’d be a bit mad not to do that when you've got an entire backstory written for your character.

Rae: I made a conscious effort not to [reread the books] because if Albus knew all of Harry's history and all of his past trials and tribulations and how tough he found his childhood, then half of the play wouldn't have happened.

How did you two go about forming the father/son bond?

Ricardo-Pearce: It's interesting because [the characters] really struggled to bond. We do get on very well as people, but if we were best mates, that might be harder.Instinctively, in a rehearsal room, you start playing out the relationships that your characters have with each other on stage in a very strange way.

The show has been playing the West End for several years now. What was it like joining the company?

Rae: It’s a huge show. It's a beloved show, and I'm sure there's a lot of pressure that comes with that. But this company was such a large recast, that it almost felt like we were starting from scratch; it felt like a new piece. It hasn't felt like we're filling any shoes. It's just been a whole new process.

Ricardo-Pearce: It’s such an interesting process, because you're coming into a show that's formed already, so you're not going to remake the wheel. All of that technical stuff is set, so you don't get to make it. But you do, within that framework, get to be your own version of the characters.

Do you relate to the characters?

Ricardo-Pearce: It’s a very moving play for the parent-child relationship. And there's an awful lot that I personally feel with my relationship with my own children and with my relationship with my parents. It really does touch on some universal things about being a parent and being a child.

Rae: Maybe not to the same extremes, but my family and I went through very similar things when I was a teenager. I really struggled in school, and Albus and his decisions and his connection with his dad, and that miscommunication, I could really relate to and really root for them to try and find some common ground.

Most people might not expect such a heartfelt family story when coming to see Harry Potter onstage. What do you hope audiences take away from the show?

Ricardo-Pearce: Most people in the world haven't seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. So for like 95 percent of our audience, it's their first time seeing it. Sometimes it's their first show ever. It’s important to remember that. Because you can get a bit casual about, but for the people watching it is their first time seeing that story. It's special to them.

Rae: You can pick out many people from the books and also the play, that remind you of somebody you've met in your life. It's got so many human elements for people to relate to. It's just happening inside this amazing wizarding world.

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This article appears in the March issue of London Theatre Magazine.

Photo credit: Polly Frame, David Ricardo Pearce, and Ellis Rae. (Photo by Manuel Harlan)

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