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Meet Harry Potter and the Cursed Child's costume designer

Written by
Ben Neutze

We all know what Harry, Ron and Hermione should look like, right? What about 19 years after the ending of JK Rowling's world-conquering series of books wrapped up? How would you imagine their futures, and how would you create those looks so that they could be seen, understood and enjoyed by everybody in a 1,500-seat theatre?

That's the challenge that fell to Katrina Lindsay, the costume designer for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. She won both the Olivier and Tony Awards for the original London and Broadway productions of the show, and now she's bringing them to Melbourne for the Australian premiere. We asked her how she approached the Wizarding World and weaved her magic – and her carefully selected fabrics – over these beloved characters.

What was your starting point in creating costumes for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Did you go back to JK Rowling's books? 
It was a mixture of going back to JK Rowling's books alongside being involved in a workshop process with the rest of the creative team in the year leading up to rehearsals, exploring the theatrical language of how we may represent aspects of the story and magical world of Harry Potter on stage.

How did you collaborate with other members of the creative team in creating these costumes? 
The story unfolds very fluidly on stage, which means it is fast paced and very choreographed. Through the workshop process, we had found that using cloaks would be a really useful tool to us in magically appearing and disappearing objects and people, as we moved from scene to scene.

Katrina Lindsay. Photograph: Supplied

Throughout the piece, there are many moments where the questions of how we might achieve a certain magical effect, a sense of an otherworldly creature, or a truly "can't believe what you are seeing before your eyes" moment, are all realised by a complete collaboration and combination of costume, with illusion, lighting and choreography. Each of these areas are knitted together seamlessly.    

How many costumes are in the show? 
Overall I think there are over 500 costumes. 

Obviously the visual language of the Wizarding World was established strongly through the films – are there visual elements from the films that you've incorporated into the design? 
I was very aware of trying to achieve a balance of living up to expectations of how these beloved characters and magical world should look, as well as making the world on stage uniquely of its own. I tried to imagine how the visual world may have evolved now that we are quite a few years on in the life of Harry, whilst still keeping it recognisable. There is a very British, vintage aesthetic to things, palettes of colour and types of materials and headwear that help us identify it as the world we know as Harry Potter.  

You've used a very specific colour palette for Ron, Hermione and Harry – why did you choose those colours?
Within the stage world of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child there is a lot of blackness created onstage by the cloaks and also, at times, the very specific lighting we need. I wanted to know that within this fairly dark palette onstage, as the story unfolds swiftly before us, the main characters would be easily identifiable within the stage pictures created. The jewel-like palette for these three was chosen with this in mind and so they had colours that could glow in the space without necessarily being bright.  

How did you land on Harry's look? What was the inspiration for it? 
We meet Harry now as a busy, slightly hassled and frazzled Ministry Man with little time for much else in his life; especially time to be present as a parent for his growing son Albus. So the combination of Harry now having to look slightly "official" – suited – but not completely comfortable in a suit, came from that. Although he looks like he is wearing a suit, his look is actually made up of separate trousers, waistcoat and jacket, so each item is one of a kind and he has put them together to form a suit. On his feet, he wears combat-like boots, scuffed and showing that he is always ready to jump in the action when needed, and is slightly happier in that world than sitting behind a desk having to go through his Ministry papers. The teal trench cloak he wears is for when he is out and about on business, and is a combination of a cloak with elements of a trench coat. In the leg of his trousers is his wand pocket so that it is always close at hand.

Jamie Parker as Harry Potter from the Original London Company of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Photograph: Manuel Harlan

How would you describe Ron's look?
Ron is Mr Comfortable. He has reached a contented place in life. Happily married to Hermione, at ease with where he finds his life now. Naturally warm, funny, and reliable as a person, I didn't feel he would spend too much time thinking about the style of his clothes, more that they would be chosen for comfort and with a slight reference to the knitwear his mum used to create for him as a child. He wears autumnal colours, to complement his hair, and soft fabrics that can mould to his body, creating a slouchy at-home feel. His jumper, although inspired by his past, is something that has been bought for him by Hermione, and is slightly more grown up than his mum’s homemade ones; but still with a stripe and orange palette, and now over-worn and a bit stretched, which have echoes to his family's look.    

And Hermione's look?
Hermione is now in a very high-status, official position at the Ministry of Magic. She is the epitome of a natural intelligent working woman. Elegant but also at ease with what she is wearing. Modern but timeless. The cut and colour of what she wears shows the power and status of her position, but also takes us into the underlying world within Harry Potter. Her look isn't as regular as Ron's, Harry's or Ginny's. She definitely now visually bridges the gap between a muggle and wizards and witches, which felt right in reflection of her position now in the Ministry. On the surface, you would never imagine Ron and Hermione together, but in both looks there is an ease built within the looks – Ron's to do with comfort, Hermione's with ease of movement. When she is out on official business, she wears a coat cloak which she carries off with great style.

Can you tell me a little bit more about how the cloaks work in the show? 
Cloaks are a huge part of the choreography and staging of transitions from scene to scene within the show. We have the Hogwarts cloaks, which are worn by the school pupils at Hogwarts, and a version also by the teachers. Once a pupil is sorted hoods in house colours are attached to the Hogwarts cloaks. On stage, we also have Ministry cloaks, and travel cloaks. All the cloaks have to have a great sense of movement about them, and the cut and weight of the fabric plays a huge part in how they move on stage and help us to create the speed and momentum we want.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child New York cast
Photograph: Matthew Murphy

Costume design is often a lot more intricate than people might realise when they're watching a show – for example, most people wouldn’t think you need to pay attention to the weight of the fabric used in the cloaks – what other factors have you had to take into consideration that people might not realise?
Choices of fabric play a huge part in the creation of costumes for stage, especially in a piece like this. It takes a certain amount of time to find the right fabric that is going to move in the way we want, plus not be too weighty for a performer to wear, and be durable enough for eight shows a week for months and months on end, with all the sweat and washing that they will endure day after day. There are a multitude of factors that need to be considered in a variety of aspects for every choice that’s made in the creation of the costumes you will see on stage. 

The actors also play many different characters in the course of the two shows so their tracks (where we follow where they are on stage and off, from moment to moment and what they are playing next) are often complicated from character change to character change. All this has to be worked out, and often involves quick changes backstage of seconds, before the actors are back onstage as a completely new character. The choreography backstage is as important and complicated as the choreography onstage.

On the surface, the costumes can look very simple but often there are many many aspects that have been built into them whilst being made that won't be seen but are crucial in us achieving the effects we do with them. Costume design for the stage is a really technical art form and intricate in the construction and detail. There are many brilliant craftspeople involved in the creation of each costume and each costume brings up different possible challenges to achieve it in a medium where we can't stop the show to adjust the look or fix it during the action.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child kicks off its Melbourne season at Her Majesty's Theatre on January 16. Find out how to score tickets.

Looking for more theatrical adventures? Check out the best shows in Melbourne this month.

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