The Cursed Child wields its stage magic in Melbourne
AFTER J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter saga put a spell on an entire generation, the next instalment of her wizarding story is doing the same with a new audience: theatre-goers.
The magic of stagecraft has well and truly been taken to new heights in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The hit play by Jack Thorne is based on an original new story by Rowling, Thorne and John Tiffany.
The stage phenomenon has set up shop at Melbourne's historic Princess Theatre, where it will play for at least the next two years.
Melbourne is only the third city in the world, after London and New York, to host the production.
And if you think it's just for Potter-loving muggles, then think again. The Cursed Child is the most awarded production in the history of Britain's Olivier Awards, winning a record-breaking nine awards including Best New Play and Best Director.
Last year the play went on to win six Tony Awards including the coveted Best Play. It's safe to assume the Australian cast will blitz this year's Helpmann Awards, our version of the Tonys and Oliviers, which will move to Melbourne for the first time thanks, in large part, to The Cursed Child.
Unlike other travelling big-budget musicals and plays - think The Lion King, Aladdin, The Book of Mormon - this is a destination event.
So what's all the fuss about?
The Cursed Child is unlike any play I've ever seen thanks to its dazzling and inventive special effects and illusions.
The show's producers have kindly asked fans to protect the surprise of these effects through the #keepthesecrets campaign, so I won't go into specifics to avoid spoiling the big moments.
I can say there were several large-scale effects which took my breath away, and I can't remember the last time I gasped in pure surprise at a stage show.
Then there are the dozens of smaller illusions, clever tricks and props which bring a believability to this living, breathing incarnation of the Potterverse.
"The biggest illusion of all is making it look simple - it isn't," illusions and magic designer Jamie Harrison says in the official program.
"It's intricate, it's complicated, it took months of effort to conceive and design and it needs weeks of rigorous rehearsal to make it magical."
But The Cursed Child isn't a show which leans too heavily on its sorcery.
At its heart is a story 19 years in the making. Set two decades after the events of The Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron and Hermione are all grown up with families of their own.
Harry's son Albus is struggling to fit in at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. His father's legend looms large and the other students are quick to point it out when he doesn't live up to expectations.
He finds solace and friendship in another outcast, Scorpious Malfoy - the son of Harry's childhood nemesis Draco.
Awkward, sweet and different from his father in nearly every way, save for that trademark white-blonde hair, Scorpious is plagued by vicious rumours of his true parentage.
After an argument with his father, Albus stumbles upon a plan he thinks will right the wrongs of the past and, despite his trepidation, Scorpious tags along for the ride.
Their misadventures are the main driver of the story, which balances humour with sobering drama and high stakes.
Staged in two parts, the play can be seen back-to-back in one day or over successive nights.
While a combined five hours in the theatre may sound daunting, the story is broken up into manageable chunks and the cliffhanger ending of part one will have you eagerly returning to your seat for more.
I opted to see both parts in the same day. The two-hour break is plenty of time to grab a bite to eat, indulge in a few drinks and even do a spot of shopping.
Mexican eatery Mamasita is a short walk from the theatre and conveniently takes dinner bookings from 5pm.
At a high-top table or bar seat you can survey the restaurant as you devour the moreish char-grilled corn and sip on a tangy margarita.
The Imperial Hotel, just a one-minute walk from the theatre, has transformed its rooftop into the pop-up bar Vertic Alley, which serves cocktails such as True Love Potion and Pumpkin Juice as well as Potter-themed snacks like Gilliweed tacos and Siriusly Black ice cream.
It's an Instagram-worthy venue no true Potter fan should miss.
Two months into its Australian residency, the play is already proving to be a tourism boom for the Victorian capital.
Not only do interstate and international visitors go out to eat and drink, they also need somewhere to stay.
I also observed plenty of fans willing to fork out some serious cash for Potter-themed merchandise to remember their experience.
Dare I say, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the best thing I've ever seen on the stage. This is a show worth travelling for.
IF YOU GO
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child plays Melbourne's Princess Theatre, tickets available now.
Matinee performances begin promptly at 2pm and evening performances at 7.30pm. Please note latecomers will not be admitted until intermission.
Personal items cannot be left at your seats between parts and you must take all your belongings with you.
Tickets start from $65 per part plus handling fee. To book, go to harrypottertheplay.com/au
For a last-minute deal there is also the Friday Forty offer. Every week, 40 tickets for every performance the following week will be released by TodayTix for some of the best seats in the theatre at $40 per part, per ticket.
To book a Friday Forty ticket, go to todaytix.com or download the TodayTix app.
Oaks on Lonsdale, 23-33 Lonsdale St, oakshotels.com
Rydges Melbourne, 198 Exhibition St, rydges.com
Sofitel Melbourne, 25 Collins St, sofitel-melbourne.com.au
Ovolo Laneways, 19 Little Bourke St, ovolohotels.com.au
Mamasita, 1/11 Collins St, mamasita.com.au
Vertic Alley, 2-8 Bourke St, bourkestreetimperial.com/vertic-alley
Seamstress Restaurant & Bar, 113 Lonsdale St, seamstress.com.au
Mrs Parma's Bar & Bistro, 19-25 Little Bourke St, mrsparmas.com.au
The Princess Theatre is located in the Melbourne CBD's Free Tram Zone. The nearest tram stop is Bourke St/Spring St and Parliament Station (Route 86, 96 and 35).
Nearest major station is Parliament Station. It is a two-minute walk from the station to the Princess Theatre.
The nearest car parking is Wilson Parking, Parkade, at 34-60 Little Collins St.
The journalist was the guest of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Oaks on Lonsdale and Bridges PR.