MAGIC and witchcraft may be the driving forces behind the Melbourne hit success “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, but it’s the human elements of the play that give it flesh and blood.
That at least is the view of Canberra-raised Lucy Goleby, who plays Ginny née Weasley, now Potter, in the six-hour, two-part blockbuster running in the Princess Theatre, which has been totally refurbished, down to the carpet specially woven with the Hogwarts insignia.
This script, written by British screenwriter and playwright Jack Thorne around a story concocted by JK Rowling, John Tiffany and Thorne himself, fast forwards 19 years from the last of the Potter books to the present time, when childhood classmates Harry, Hermione, Ginny and her brother Ron have all grown up.
Hermione is married to Ron and Ginny to Harry, who is now a senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Magic. The Potters have three kids, James Sirius, Albus Severus and Lily Luna. When the sensitive son Albus befriends Scorpius Malfoy, son of Harry’s arch-enemy Draco Malfoy, on the train to Hogwarts, things get complicated.
As Goleby, playing the concerned mum, says: “It shows you another side to these characters that you think you know really well.
“They grow up, they become parents. The characters struggle with their relationships and this is a wonderful thing that theatre does best.”
But the thousands of Potter tragics packing in to the Princess have come more for the fun of hearing familiar names. When the name of Harry’s former classmate Neville Longbottom is mentioned, for instance, cries of recognition erupt around the auditorium.
So there’s a human story to this new play, but the rest is sheer magic. This is the third production in the world after London and New York and it’s based on the West End show, with illusion and magic created by leading British illusionist, Jamie Harrison.
Characters appear and disappear, stairways and walls are constantly on the move, an owl flies across the stage to deliver a letter, a London Street transforms into Platform Nine and Three-Quarters and a pile up of suitcases magically becomes a train.
There’s plenty of storm, thunder and lightning as the terrifying Death Eaters gather strength, but the magic climaxes when Harry and Draco, sick of being polite to each other, have a full-on magic battle with leaps, strikes and disappearances – until Ginny, a high-grade witch herself, puts a stop to the boys’ nonsense with a flick of her wand.
Goleby and the three other talented Canberrans in the creative team – her husband, the associate producer Rhys Holden and ensemble members James O’Connell and Soren Jensen – have been through the mill, especially O’Connell and Jensen, who have to play up to seven different characters including, in Jensen’s case, the formidable Hagrid, keeper of grounds at Hogwarts.
It hasn’t been easy for Goleby, a former Saint Clare’s College, ANU and NIDA graduate whose first grown-up role was playing a witch in “Macbeth” for Canberra director Anne Somes, of which she says: “And here I am playing a witch all these years later”.
Once they’d passed the gruelling audition process, she says, the actors were thrown into bootcamp to see if they had the physical stamina to maintain six hours of acting a day – management prefers audiences to book in for back-to-back matinee and evening shows.
“There’s so much physical effort,” she says. “There are 70 crew and no one wants people getting sick, but it’s a great machine, ‘Harry Potter’ just rolls on.”
There’s no star system at work in this production. “People know these characters, that’s who they’re coming to see, they’re not coming because Helen Mirren is playing the Queen, they’re coming to see Harry and Ginny.”
Acting preparation for background was relatively easy.
“I’d read all the Harry Potter books before and I’ve read them a number of times again,” she says. “And there’s an official website at pottermore.com where you can find out what the issues are.”
It’s true, we found a full bio, relating that after being an accomplished Quidditch player Ginny becomes sports editor for the wizarding newspaper, “The Daily Prophet.”
These days Goleby gets up first thing in the morning, breakfasts and works the double-show, rarely seeing husband Rhys again until after midnight. But she reports a high level of job satisfaction, even if the prospect of performing in a show that could go on for many years was initially daunting.
“I’m used to short-term contracts but this is the opposite,” she says.
“Signing up for a job with a stable income was secure, but there was something strangely scary about it, too, but I have to say that I’m yet to be bored… every day there’s some kind of surprise, I stand in the wings and I watch the show – it’s amazing.”
“You really invest in this show; its special, it’s got magic, but it also deals with the domestic environment, too.”
Ginny, she says, is married to the greatest celebrity in the wizarding world and so there’s an element of what it means to be a celebrity couple, a fact that impacts negatively on the father and son relationship.
“As parents, often we don’t agree,” Goleby says as Ginny. “The weight of expectation falls on the son, so how as a mother do I alleviate that expectation?
“The wizarding world is wonderful because it’s so similar to ours, but with something added, a little bit of magic, but human relationships need human solutions.”
“Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, Princess Theatre, Melbourne. Bookings at harrypottertheplay.com are now open until the end of May.