What's Hot in London: Harry Potter's Back, and He’s Coming to the Stage! Dates and Details Announced

News   What's Hot in London: Harry Potter's Back, and He’s Coming to the Stage! Dates and Details Announced
When the current Benedict Cumberbatch Hamlet (currently playing at the Barbican, with the final week of the run next week through Oct. 31) went on sale a year ahead of its opening, it sold out within hours. (Last week's National Theatre Live screening of the production set a record for attendance for a live theatre broadcast, with a reported 225,000 people seeing it in 25 countries).

That show was produced by Sonia Friedman; will she now break her own record for pre-opening sales when she puts her co-production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on sale next week (priority booking for those who have signed up on the website is from Oct. 28, with tickets on general sale from Oct. 30, as reported here)?

Described as one play being presented in two parts, it will be sold initially as a pair only, so the investment required from theatregoers will be up to £130 for the two shows — a new record for non-premium prices for a play in the West End. But the producers are stressing that there will be cheaper options, including a daily and weekly lottery, reduced-price previews (something that Hamlet never offered), and an inventory of 250 seats per performance at £15 or less during previews and £20 or less post opening.

Jack Thorne, J.K._Rowling and John Tiffany
Jack Thorne, J.K._Rowling and John Tiffany Photo by Debra Hurford Brown

Intended to be seen as a complete double bill — with double days on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and each part presented alone on Thursday and Friday evenings — tickets will be released for single performance sales at a later date.

There is obviously going to be huge public as well as theatrical interest in this property; the legion of Harry Potter fans worldwide will be keen to devour an eighth original story in the series that has been specially created for the stage by original Potter creator J.K Rowling, working with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany.

There is a huge responsibility on all of them to deliver an original experience that nevertheless captures the essence of what has made this such a beloved property. It's a tough nut to crack: look at what happened to Spider-Man Turn off the Dark, the stage version of The Lord of the Rings and King Kong (staged in Australia and long projected for Broadway but which so far hasn't reached there). I can't wait to see it — but the big question is whether the critics will wait. Several went in, unbidden, to the first preview of Hamlet; the temptation to do so here will be irresistible to newspaper editors. But should any critics be tempted to buy tickets for the first previews that are going on-sale from June 7, the producers have already warned that the are going to add four more previews ahead of that date, for which tickets are not yet being released.

Jack Thorne, J.K._Rowling and John Tiffany
Jack Thorne, J.K._Rowling and John Tiffany Photo by Debra Hurford Brown

Plays Make a West End Resurgence

The West End, like Broadway, has come to be dominated by musicals, both numerically and commercially; but some of the biggest West End hits at the moment are plays, and that trend looks set to continue. Michael Grandage has planted a marker for quality plays in the West End with his seasons that first brought the Donmar Warehouse that he was at the helm of to have a residency at Wyndham's and then his own company at the Novello, where it previously staged a five-play season across a year that included a production of Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan that subsequently transferred to Broadway. Currently, the Michael Grandage Company is back in residence at the Novello with its sell-out production of Anna Ziegler's Photograph 51, starring Nicole Kidman (playing through Nov. 21).

Now the Michael Grandage Company has just announced a far smaller initiative, co-producing the U.K premiere of Richard Greenberg's 2002 Off-Broadway play The Dazzle at Found111, a new venue on the Charing Cross Road created in the former home of the Central St Martin's art school, that will star Andrew Scott (Moriarty in TV's "Sherlock" and about to be seen starring in the new Bond film "Spectre").

There's there's the new Kenneth Branagh Company season, now in previews for the inaugural productions of The Winter's Tale, Harlequinade and All on Her Own (the latter a solo work that will be performed by Zoë Wanamaker prior to Harlequinade each night) at the Garrick Theatre.

Across the next year, Branagh will himself star in four of the plays (as well as The Winter's Tale and Harlequinade, he will also star in John Oborne's The Entertainer and The Painkiller, reprising a performance in the latter that he previously did in Belfast in 2011), and direct a fifth show, Romeo and Juliet, reuniting Richard Madden and Lily James, the stars of his recent film version of "Cinderella." The company have also just announced a West End run for Red Velvet, a play that stars Adrian Lester that was previously seen at the Tricycle and at New York's St Ann's Warehouse.

As Branagh himself told me, "It feels like a good time now to engage with the changing demands of the West End — it feels like an exciting and evolving moment in the life of the West End, and London is a vital place to be."

And that sense of excitement is amplified, too, by the current run of quality transfers to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre: while The Father (a play that is coincidentally also Broadway-bound this season, but in a different production) is playing there through Nov. 21, after transferring from Bath's Ustinov Theatre and London's Tricycle, it will be followed by the Royal Court's production of Martin McDonagh's Hangmen (as previously announced here from Dec. 1, then the National's production of Duncan Macmillan's People, Places and Things (as previously announced here) from March 15.

Opening this Week in London
Amongst the highlights in the week ahead are:

  • Andrew Lloyd Webber's Cats is back at the London Palladium from Oct. 23, now with Beverley Knight being re-born to another theatrical life as Grizabella, after her previous West End turns in Memphis and The Bodyguard.
  • Brooklyn-based collaborative ensemble TEAM return to London with their latest show RoosevElvis, opening at the Royal Court Oct. 26, which tells of a hallucinatory road trip from the Badlands to Graceland.
  • Anne-Marie Duff returns to the National to star in Husbands and Sons, adapted from D.H .Lawrence, opening Oct. 27 in the Dorfman.
  • Greg Kotis, who co-wrote Urinetown that was seen at the St James, returns there with a dark new farce called Pig Farm, opening Oct. 28, in a production that includes Stephen Tompkinson.
  • Scott Alan, who recently completed a 12-night London residency at the Hippodrome and has just released a new album that features The Color Purple star Cynthia Erivo and Oliver Tompsett singing his songs, plays his last London concert for 2015 at Soho's Kettner's Oct. 26, with guests.

For more updates

Follow me on Twitter here, @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen! And keep checking the international section of Playbill.com for major stories.

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