As my frequent readers know, I am a Harry Potter fan. On one of my last visits to London, I took a bus out to see the Warner Brothers Studios in Leavesden. Today the Harry Potter theme continues with the two-part play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. To experience the full story, you go to two performances, one of each part. You do not need to see both parts the same day, or even on consecutive days. However, given the timing of our visit, it only worked for me to see a Wednesday matinee performance of part I and Wednesday evening performance of part II. I have the same seat on the aisle for both.
The play was highly recommended to me by the Dean of the Faculty of the the liberal arts University where I serve as a member of the board of trustees. She had seen the plays on a trip to London with her husband and son. It can be very difficult to get tickets. The plays are now also being performed in New York, but when I saw the London venue I was so glad I had chosen to see them here. The Palace Theater location just added to the experience.
I figured out my route on the tube and left from the Tower Hill Station, just two blocks from my hotel. I arrived early to pick up my tickets at Will Call. The box office ticket agent let me know that the theater would open an hour before the performance. At the time, I wasn’t sure why he made such a big deal about that.
Since it sounds like I might not have as much time as I thought, I just went to the McDonald’s across the street to grab lunch. I really try not to go to chains restaurants, particularly American chains, when I travel. However, I just wanted something quick. There were a lot of “American” options nearby. As I ate my lunch siting next to the window that gave me a view of the theater, I realized why the box office worker had stressed the opening time. Long before security began clearing people for the 1,400-seat theater, patrons began lining up. As I sat, I saw the line growing and growing. It snaked completely around the building when I finally got in line, just under an hour before the play started.
I cleared security in plenty of time and stopped at the gift counter. Hard to know what you wanted before you actually saw the play. The Palace theater is a wonderful venue for the Harry Potter production. It originally opened in 1891 as the Royal English Opera House, but shortly thereafter converted to a grand music hall and reopened under the name Palace Theatre of Varieties. In 1897, they also began showing films as part of the varied entertainment. The Marx Brother appeared on the Palace stage in 1922.
The name of the venue was shortened to the Palace Theater in 1911. It became a preferred venue for musicals in 1925. Through 2013, many famous musical productions found their home there. “The Sound of Music ran for 2,385 performances at the theatre, opening in 1961. Jesus Christ Superstar ran from 1972 to 1980, and Les Misérables played at the theatre for nineteen years, beginning in 1985. In 1983, Andrew Lloyd Webber purchased and by 1991 had refurbished the theatre.”
The theater only went dark in January of 2016 in preparation for a new large scale production. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s opening performance at the theater was in June of 2016. In April 2017, the play picked up a record-breaking nine Olivier Awards, including Best New Play and Best Director. I anticipate a long run.
The story picks up where the last Harry Potter movie leaves off. In fact, the first scene of dialogue is an on-stage recreation of the closing scene in the film. The story centers around Harry and Genny’s middle child, Albus Severus Potter, his first year at Hogwart’s, and his unlikely best friend. I warn you, you won’t be so wild about this Harry. The adult version makes many mistakes as a parent and is not necessarily a very likable character in the play. That was probably the only disappointing and weak point for me in an otherwise wonderful production.
I loved seeing the magical moments recreated on stage. You will want to see it, so I won’t ruin any of the surprises for you. I did enjoy the Part I, more than Part II. I had fairly close up seats on the aisle in the stalls (orchestra or ground level seating), worth springing for. This is one of the largest theaters in the West End, seating 1,400 on four levels. The building itself is long and narrow.
After being drained by the first show, I went to an early dinner between the productions. I had done a little research and realized this is an area of London with an Asian bent, so I chose a restaurant on the back side of the theater with authentic Chinese food that came highly recommended. YMing did not disappoint. I had a lovely table in the corner by the windows and throughly enjoyed my dinner.
I knew to get in line a little earlier this time for security. I had time to check out the gift shop and buy a few things, find the bar, and look around the theater a little bit before the Part II production began. After the show, I walked a little farther to a tube station where I could get a direct train back to the hotel. The crowds leaving the theater made this safe. I have now had two full days in London and seen 4 shows-3 plays and a musical. You would think I would be done with the West End by now, but I bought discounted tickets for two more production tomorrow. Natasha loves her theater.