By Nick Pilgrim
It would be an understatement to say that Harry Potter is a worldwide phenomenon.
Created by J.K. Rowling, the British author penned seven novels (published in succession from 1997 to 2007) about the adventures of a pre-teen wizard, his friends, and deathly rivals. Written for younger audiences and the young at heart, her books became an immediate international hit.
A major film adaptation of the series followed, with eight motion pictures in total grossing $7.2 billion in collective box office receipts.
When fans craved and demanded more, Rowling delivered a two-part play which debuted on London’s West End in 2016. Since then, Harry Potter and The Cursed Child has multiple productions playing in the United States (New York City and San Francisco), Hamburg, Melbourne, Tokyo, and Toronto.
It is almost inevitable this global franchise would spawn tongue-in-cheek, yet loving tributes. Several of the more recent theatrical examples to tour Australia include Puffs and Potted Potter.
As a casual fan of the series, I wanted to conduct a small experiment. Would the likes of Voldemort and The Teenage Hogwarts allow someone other than a hardcore follower to appreciate the interwoven storylines and intricacies of the original books and films? With the production’s concept by Sarah Louise Younger and Ashley Taylor Tickell, I was curious to find out.
In terms of its overall structure, Voldemort feels closer to a chamber musical than a standard revue. There is a lot of ground to cover in the production’s 75-minute running time. In short, its basic premise revolves around which house leader can win Hogwarts’ Battle of The Bands. Rivalries and romances abound, with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure.
More than up to the challenge, the seven-strong cast (Alex Donnelly, Ellis Dolan, Jay Haggett, Emily Hansford, Stephanie John, Jess Ridler and Jonathon Shilling) bounce off each other with gleeful abandon. Having performed the show as a team for some time, the group share a very relaxed, cohesive, and playful chemistry. At times, Voldemort appears like an extended improv or theatre sports challenge, the actors seem that fresh and loose.
A solid handful of original songs are sprinkled throughout the show, with musical styles ranging from traditional showtune territory, pop, rock, and a wry reference to The Proclaimers’ hit, “I’m Gonna Be”, thrown in for good measure.
More than simply expanding on a dramatic moment, their presence is crucial to the narrative. Doing a lot of the show’s heavy lifting, it is imperative to listen very closely to each piece.
Meaning that, the songs contain both character background and motivation. Like another short form musical, Six (which is currently playing at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre), they are excellent examples of how to use exposition without it feeling like a comprehensive description or explanation for the sake of inclusion. That each tune allows every actor a chance to shine in the spotlight, adds to Voldemort’s infectious charm.
Simple yet effective set design (Grace Deacon and Madeline Nibali) is limited to a series of colour-coded windows and low platforms. The actors also make full use of the stage space, and to some extent, parts of the auditorium as well.
Nibali was also responsible for well-defined and identifiable costuming, with Caidan de Win’s sound and lighting adding just the right amount of dramatic flavour.
Miranda Middleton’s direction and choreography kept the tone light, fast, and fun, at all times, with musical direction by Natalie Calia and musical supervision by David Youings. Andrew Hughes tied the controlled chaos together with neat and tidy stage management.
Like Thrones (which is a tribute show to the television series, Game of Thrones), Voldemort is easy to digest and follow. The cast makes sure we are having as good a time as they are, which is enough of a drawcard in my book.
My biggest takeaway from the experience is that Voldemort is very much a production for grown-ups. Strong language and adult humour may pepper the journey. But it must be said, the creators know their target market. The appreciative twenty and thirty-something audience attending Saturday afternoon’s session couldn’t get enough of this bawdy spin on a beloved children’s classic.
The perfect addition to any cabaret, comedy, music festival program calendar or simply as a stand-alone work, Voldemort and the Teenage Hogwarts Musical Parody is a naughty distraction for friends and fans of Harry Potter alike.