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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child cast during a performance
Photograph: Daniel Boud

First look: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is reopening as a one-night play

The two-part Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the most awarded play in theatre history – can it be cut down?

Cassidy Knowlton
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Cassidy Knowlton
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Epic blockbuster play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a show of staggering proportions and impressive records, both set and smashed. Two parts. More than five hours. Eleven Laurence Olivier Award nominations for its West End debut (a record) and nine Laurence Olivier Award wins (another record). A Broadway production that took in $2.5 million in a single week (yet another record). A $6.5 million renovation for Melbourne's beloved Princess Theatre to turn the 1886 grande dame into Hogwarts for the Australian version of the show. More than two years of shows at the Princess, give or take various lockdowns.

But almost five years after its first West End preview, the show is being reimagined and relaunched as an entirely new, single-night production. Gone are the two parts, and jettisoned are almost two hours of theatre, with the new version clocking it at a still meaty three and a half hours. Can you really cut a theatrical spectacular like Cursed Child in half without losing some of its epic grandeur? 

I was fortunate enough to travel to New York to see the new show and answer exactly that question. In general, I'm a more-is-more person. Moderation be damned, if I can spend more hours with something I love, I want to spend more hours. And I really love the wizarding world of Harry Potter.

I needn't have been sceptical. The show has been cut with surgical precision and empathetic creativity. Although I've seen the original version three times, it was difficult to pinpoint what exactly was missing. The new version promises "more magic per minute", and it certainly delivers. All of the play's grand set pieces are intact, and the spectacle and magic are just as jaw-dropping as they were in the longer version. The audience is still moved to audible gasps, shrieks, and occasionally, tears. 

That, for Cursed Child co-producer Colin Callender, is exactly what the team were going for when they decided to trim down the show. "Now you can come into New York on a Friday night and see the show or Saturday night and see the show, which previously you couldn't do," he says. "But we didn't want to do it unless we felt we could actually creatively do justice to the play, and protect the core of the play. And we've been able to do that."

The magic of Cursed Child, both literal and metaphorical, remains at the forefront of the new show, which retains its extraordinary wow factor. "The fundamental rule that was the starting point was that we had to improve all the illusions, all the magic, all the special effects, everything that people would say, 'oh, my goodness, how on Earth could we do that?' We wanted to keep all of that. And so part of the challenge was finding a version of the one part that kept all of that, while at the same time telling the story," says Callender. 

On that second point, storytelling, the reimagined production might be even better than the original. There's less fan service, fewer scenes with 40-something Harry, Ron and Hermione complaining about their aches and pains and no more flashbacks to a ten-year-old Harry under the stairs. That is all for the good, however, as it allows breathing space for the plots, characters and relationships that matter the most – particularly the relationship between Harry and his son Albus, and the relationship between Albus and his best friend, Scorpius Malfoy (yes, of those Malfoys). The relationship between the boys is pushed further in the new version – a few script tweaks, and accusations of queerbaiting that have been levelled against the original version are almost dispelled. 

Even while keeping all the important storytelling beats intact and mounting the giant spectacle, the new show still manages to provide enough context that those who are new to the Potterverse won't be completely at sea. 

"Walking the fine line between inducting newbies and satisfying the sort of diehard fans was the challenge from day one," says Callender. "It was a challenge, and until the play opened, we never really knew whether we pulled that off. And what was gratifying was none of the superfans felt that we were over-explaining the story and that there was too much exposition. And the folks that were sort of Harry-new seemed to understand it, but I think they understood it because at the core of the play, it's the story of a father and a son, and the story of two boys and their friendship and what that means to them."

The two-part version of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will finish up on Sunday, March 27, and the newly reimagined show opens at the Princess on May 19. Most of the current cast, including Gareth Reeves as Harry Potter, Paula Arundell as Hermione Granger, Michael Whalley as Ron Weasley, Lucy Goleby as Ginny Potter, Ben Walter as Albus Potter, Nyx Calder as Scorpius Malfoy, Aisha Aidara as Rose Granger-Weasley/Young Hermione and Jessica Vickers as Delphi Diggory, will reprise their roles, with Lachlan Woods joining the new production as Draco Malfoy.

You can rest easy that you won't be missing anything crucial in the new production, but if you want to be truly sure, you don't have long to catch the original and do your own comparison. After all, what's so good about moderation? 

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