Last night, after months of anticipation, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had its first preview performance at the Palace Theatre in London. 1,500 fans of the series, including myself, were able to see the first half of the two-part play before the press, with no clue as to the plot of the “eighth story”.
Audience members received an email two weeks prior to this first performance with a list of security notices (no large bags, all bags to be searched) advising them to arrive an hour before the 7:30 start time. When I turned up at 6:30, the queues for admittance were already snaking down the street, looping the theatre.
Despite the heat of the June night, fans of all ages committed to dressing for the occasion: long black Hogwarts cloaks abounded, as did house ties, time-turner necklaces and franchise T-shirts. Some, including a particularly accurate (and adorable) Luna Lovegood, came in full costume.
The ornate interior of the Palace is particularly suited to the world of Harry Potter, with its golden walls, and underground bars with huge mirrors. Programmes and merchandise crowd the entrance. As well as the usual tote bags and badges, fans can purchase cuddly owls in different sizes.
Once settled in their seats, the crowd at the opening performance were understandably giddy with excitement: many chatting about their disbelief at their luck (when months and months of tickets sell out in seconds, and resales go for £800, first night tickets are like winning big at the lottery) and swapping theories. When the actors first stepped on the stage, the audience erupted in cheers.
The enthusiasm of the crowd didn’t subside – this was unlike any theatre I had experienced before – and it had atmosphere very similar to various fan events I’ve attended (yes, I may or may not have professed my love for J K Rowling at the odd book signing over the years). Every time a familiar character appeared on stage, the audience couldn’t resist clapping and whooping, there were loud gasps at every new revelation or impressive technical effect, every quip (particularly any in-jokes about previous moments in the series) received big laughs. Even when a live owl flew off the stage and into the crowd, the giggles were good-natured. The crowd were onside before the curtain had risen.
On the way out, in a foyer now decked with different signs and poster to match the cliffhanger ending of the first half, fans were handed badges bearing the hastag #KeepTheSecrets. J K Rowling’s campaign to stop spoilers leaking out of the theatre has seen her lean on language from the series: preview performance audience members are Secret Keepers, like the wizards and witches in the series designed to hide important information via the Fidelius Charm. Rowling has even tweeted “#DontBeAWormtail”, which, considering Wormtail betrayed his best friends, invited their murder, and brought about the return of the Dark Lord, seems rather harsh on any tongue-wagging fans.
As such, you’ll get no spoilers about the play itself from me: the narrative has been constructed around the surprise factor, which it has plenty of. All I’ll say is that, despite a rogue owl and one or two technical mishaps, this is a show that seems both polished and well-worn, far more practised than the label “preview” suggests.