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Sean Rees-Wemyss has spent much of the past 49 weeks performing one of the most complex productions ever mounted in Australia – in his head.
The Australian actor had been starring in Melbourne’s record-breaking run of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child when the pandemic shut down the production in March 2020.
He spent the intervening months trying to stay match-fit for the show’s long-awaited return, which will finally take place on Thursday evening.
“I read somewhere that if you do something in your mind, it’s like your body remembers,” says the actor, who plays Harry Potter’s son, Albus.
“I started doing meditations. I would visualise my acting pathway through an entire act – all the backstage movements, the scene changes, everything. I imagined it all in as much detail as I could; the texture of the costumes, the smell of things. All this while sitting cross-legged in a dark room.”
The show’s reopening at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre marks a return to a new normality for a Victorian performing arts industry that was battered by the nationwide shutdown of the live entertainment industry early last year, and subsequent state-mandated hard lockdowns in response to localised outbreaks. The latest came on 12 February, as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was being readied for reopening.
The production, which played to more than 325,000 people in its first year, is playing to 50% houses until Saturday. From then it plays to 85% houses, the current maximum; the show is honouring all tickets bought before the closure.
Unlike many in the industry, the majority of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’s 42-strong cast and 70-person crew were in an unusually fortunate position: because the production had already run for more than a year they were eligible for jobkeeper payments.
The reboot couldn’t be more timely. The income support scheme is being wound up in March.
“I don’t think we could have been more fortunate,” Rees-Wemyss says. “The level of support we’ve had from the company, the Andrews government, and yes, from the federal government through jobkeeper, has been amazing.”
The time out also gave Rees-Wemyss time to read again – and to renovate his bookshelf. “I looked at my bookshelves and it was Ernest Hemingway and Chuck Palahniuk. It was so boring. So I set myself the challenge of only reading books by non-male identifying authors. It’s been great. I’ve read a book a week.”
For Manali Datar, who landed the role of Rose Granger-Weasley straight out of drama school, the hiatus provided her a welcome breather after an intense 18 months.
“I felt my brain needed a break so I turned to writing music, painting and reading,” Datar says. With her musical partner, Trevor Adelson, she released a single, Signs, under the moniker Ultrafine.
“In a way, that’s been my preparation for coming back. I wanted to be excited about stepping back into the theatre world. I wanted to feel fresh.”
During the break, cast and crew had access to mental health professionals if they felt they needed it, Datar says. “But mostly, we looked after each other. We were in touch on social media all the time.
On day one of their return to work, they were presented with a 117-page manual on the Covid-19 safety procedures that would govern the rehearsal period and the show going forward.
The show itself remains largely unaltered by the new regulations, Rees-Wemyss explains. “The whole process has been about creating a Covid-safe workplace without compromising the vision of the production and the onstage world.”
Backstage it’s a different story. Sanitising stations are everywhere. Social distancing is enforced. Masks are worn. Cast members are tested once a week.
Everyone has developed new perspectives on just what it takes to get the show on, Datar adds. “The cleaning staff are amazing. They so respectful and so vigilant. They put in so much extra work so that we can be up here telling our story. I think we’ve all got a much bigger sense of what a collective effort this really is.”
The first post-shutdown public performance of the show on Tuesday night had a few wobbles, Rees-Wemyss admits. The audience – which included friends and family – took it in their stride.
“Basically it was the most loving audience of all time. Whenever anything went wrong, it was like, ‘Don’t worry, we love you, keep going.’”
• Harry Potter and the Cursed Child runs in Melbourne until August 2021, with tickets still available
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘We looked after each other’: Harry Potter’s Australian cast finally returns to the stage