Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Keep The Secrets
Potter Fever has swept over the West End as the world première of J.K Rowling's latest instalment in the Harry Potter series Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I and II has begun previews at the Palace Theatre. The production has made news headlines the world over thanks to the international appeal of the Harry Potter franchise, with millions of fans waiting to find out what happens next to their beloved characters.
On Tuesday fans decked out in Harry Potter robes, some carrying props others clutching limited editions of their favourite books lined up outside the Palace Theatre waiting to be the first people in the world to see what is being called the eighth 'book' in the series. Fans from all over the world descended on Shaftesbury Avenue – some with a ticket, many just there hoping to hear about the event first hand, making one of the most unique yet high profile openings of any West End production.
Although the play runs in previews for the next six weeks, with the official opening night slated for 30 July, the night before Harry Potter's birthday, press outlets from the New York Times to the Mirror have run reviews and in-depth preview pieces based on the first instalment of the play alone. This evening marks the first preview of Part II, meaning that audiences who were left on the edge of their seats following Tuesday's performance will finally have a chance to see how this anticipated story concludes.
The Palace Theatre
When it was first announced that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child would be presented on stage in two separate parts, many were cynical about the motives behind the division, with some seeing it as a further attempt to generate revenue from fans and audiences, who obviously want to see both parts of the story. Fans of Harry Potter are used to tome-like books (the longest in the series Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix weighs in at 870 pages) so The Cursed Child clocking in at over 5 hours of playing time is certainly no surprise to fans of J.K Rowling's work. Regular theatre fans may be used to this division and the concept of 'marathon theatre', from Trevor Nunn's monolithic adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby, which ran at around 8 1/2 hours, to the frequent programming of Shakespeare's History plays, that include dramas such as Henry IV parts I and II, regularly presented across one day. Most recently the commercial West End saw the RSC's production of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, two plays that ran on consecutive evenings meant to be enjoyed as a pair.
Whilst the logistics behind the scenes and for actors and audiences of juggling two full length plays at once may be overwhelming, the greatest problem currently faced by Rowling and team seems to be saving the surprise of both the story line and the production itself. With a property as highly anticipated as this, fans all over the world are focusing in on Shaftesbury Avenue, eager to find out elements of the play, from the storyline and destinies of their favourite characters but also the physical production and visual representation of Harry Potter's world on stage. Rather than shy away from the challenge, Rowling has instead decided to use her fans as the primary tool for 'keeping the secrets'. By inviting the audience to be part of the experience, speaking to them directly and handing out 'keep the secrets' buttons to all attendees, the will to make the production feel special and ephemeral is placed firmly in the hands of the audiences themselves.
That said, reports that red top newspapers were busy filing reviews during the interval of the first part shows that there are also many Slytherins ready to break both press embargoes and basic levels of common sense and decency by sharing 'spoilers' about the play in an effort to click-bait traffic to their various news outlets. It is perhaps ridiculous to consider that all the production's secrets can remain out of the public eye, but the 'keep the secrets' campaign certainly helps add to the PR hysteria surrounding the show and also employs audiences as a sort of 'Dumbledore's Army' going forth into the world to protect a property they love and admire.
Keep The Secrets Badges
For fans around the world and indeed those in London who were not able to magically get through the intense ticket booking system, hope is not lost. The script to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is being published and released into the universe on 31 July, meaning that fans without tickets, as well as those who are lucky to see it live, will not miss out on the story and will be able to at least read, share and potentially stage their own back-garden productions of the play. Since being announced, the play-text has already shot up the Amazon Best Seller list, and pre-order notices are displayed in bookshops all over the world. Whilst this is nothing new for Harry Potter books, it is nothing short of a revolution for a play text. Published scripts, whilst read avidly by theatre fans and in classrooms never breakthrough onto a best-seller list and rarely capture any attention upon being published. There's something genuinely heartening about the fact that that this summer potentially millions of people will pick up a play script, some perhaps for the first time, and enjoy their favourite story in an exciting and challenging new form.
That aside, it's of little consolation to the hundreds of thousands of fans who didn't secure tickets to the production and can't see themselves being able to see the play first hand. Demand for the show has been unprecedented, and the ticket release system was unlike anything seen before in London theatre. Nimax provided a somewhat complicated but ultimately effective booking system that depended on a lot of luck and a little magic along the way. Tickets for both parts, sold mainly together, sold out almost instantly and the show technically remains 'sold out' throughout the rest of the year and for most of 2017.
Broadway has recently been experiencing its own revolution as Hamilton has become New York's hottest ticket since opening on Broadway last July. Since being nominated for 16 Tony Awards, demand has only increased, meaning that new booking dates are similarly sold out instantaneously. In an Op-Ed for the New York Times this week, creator and star of the show Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote about the challenges facing the ticketing industry from 'bots' buying batches of tickets to sell on at highly inflated prices, which is in neither the consumer or the producer's best interests. Third party selling of all events is rife across multiple genres and mediums, but fans are losing out thanks to greedy automated systems who are profiteering from the artistry of others.
Jamie Parker as Harry Potter
It's hard to tell if the same is happening for Harry Potter, as no new tickets have been released, but just a quick google search will highlight how the simple supply-and-demand economics behind Harry Potter's first stage outing means that there is certainly money to be made in the chain, as long as there are people willing to buy 'second hand' tickets. As the previews progress and the show kicks into its usual schedule, it will certainly be interesting to see how many people are being caught out having being 'miss-sold' black market tickets.
One thing is for sure, with the arrival of Harry Potter on stage, London Theatre has become worldwide news once more. As the play continues to attract publicity from around the world, we can only hope that the growth is felt amongst the wider economy of London theatre, with many other shows basking in that spotlight thanks to the industry as a whole making headlines.