Sheer Wizardry: Watching The Harry Potter And The Cursed Child Play In Melbourne

When I was 11, I recall stumbling across a dog-eared book at my cousin’s place. On the cover was a flying blue car with two boys and an owl sandwiched in between. “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”, the title said. I flipped it… and a whole new world of wonder and imagination opened up to me. Harry Potter and the wizarding world in which he inhabited and battled Lord Voldemort was the pinnacle of adventure for me. Needless to say, I secretly wished for a Hogwarts letter of my own!

When you grow up with a story and its characters, they become like friends. I anguished over Sirius’ death, rooted for Ron and Hermione to finally get together, and even years after the series ended, there is and always will be a special place in my heart (and bookcase) for the Harry Potter books. I was beyond excited when my editor told me I was going to Melbourne.. to watch the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play! It was literally a dream come true.

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is based on a story written by JK Rowling, together with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, who also directs. Melbourne is the third place in which the play has been staged since it made its debut on London and Broadway. Housed in the historic Princess Theatre in the city’s East End Theatre District, the building has been renovated exclusively for the play, and now includes beautiful themed fixtures including a giant nest at the entrance and various decorative elements within such as velvet red carpets with the Hogwarts sign, dragon-shaped lamps and more.

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The play is about six hours long (!) and is split into two parts, intended to be seen within the same day, or on two different nights. The excitement was palpable as we stood in line to enter the theatre, with people dressed in robes and their ‘house colours’ waving wands. The atmosphere was infectious. After having read the last HP book years ago (Sorry Fantastic Beast fans, not too keen on the films), I was looking forward to entering that magical wizarding world again, one that had so captured my imagination as a child.

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The theatre was packed. Even before the stage opened, we could see that the set and the pieces were amazing; soaring buttresses, clocks on the archway, movable staircases. Then the lights dimmed, a hush fell over the crowd… and the magic began.

Featuring a 35-strong Australian and New Zealand cast, the story picks up with an adult Harry, now an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, and a husband and father of three school-aged children. While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

It’s hard to describe in words how the play is like: it is definitely an experience that you have to see to believe. The way wands light up in the darkness, the way actors appear and disappear from seemingly thin air and how brooms soar up into the air. There were parts where the audience laughed, cried and gasped as one – and I with them.

There were several breakout performances, especially by William McKenna as Scorpius Malfoy, Albus’ Potter’s best friend (whom I think is the real hero of the story!). I was also mindblown by the clever use of set pieces, which truly came together to create ‘real magic’. One of my favourites was the scene where Dementors actually float towards the audience and you can see the slow fluttering of their sleeves – it felt like they were real and not just props! Another was when our young heroes Albus and Scorpius try to escape from a moving train and the scene featured a gigantic train set piece.

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Of course, Part 1 ended with a cliffhanger, and once the lights came on the hall immediately burst into a riot of voices, as everyone started talking about what they had just seen. If it were up to me I could have sat through another three hours of the play but I guess the actors have to take a rest too. 😛

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The motto for the play is Keep The Secrets – ie no spoilers, so that others may go into the play and experience the magic for themselves.

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As part of a media entourage, we were given an exclusive behind-the-scenes look into production before the play opened for its second night – and as you can see, there is a lot that goes into making it a success. What we see on stage for a couple of seconds is the result of months of careful planning, and perhaps hours of setting up.

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You can visit the theatre during the day to get some Harry Potter exclusive merchandise such as scarves in the Hogwarts house colours, wands and other souvenirs.

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I always thought that I would be a Ravenclaw (being bookish and all) but surprisingly, got sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore. 😀

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People like a streak of the dark – the shirt with the Dark Mark was especially popular.

 

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The atmosphere was equally electric on the second night, as people now anticipated what the play had in store after the dramatic cliffhanger.

While I felt that the second part was as brilliant as it was the first, the climax that I anticipated never did come. It felt like last night’s cliffhanger was the climax, as opposed to the actual one in the second part. Still, the twist that came at the end was quite unexpected, and the play wrapped up on a high note.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play is definite must watch for Potterheads (heck, even non-Potterheads – although you do need a bit of a background knowledge of Harry’s world). Having it in Melbourne is an awesome idea, as it is the only one playing in the Southern hemisphere, making it more accessible to Potter fans who will not have to go all the way to North America or Europe. The play has taken up a two-year residency since early 2019, which means you will still have time to watch it until the end of 2020.

Tickets are available at harrypottertheplay.com/au/ticket-information/. 

 

 

 

Review: The New Harry Potter Mobile Game – A Money-Grubbing Disappointment

I consider myself a massive Potterhead, so when I got wind that they were releasing a new mobile game called Harry Potter: A Hogwarts Mystery I was super psyched. The trailer looked pretty awesome as well:

…. they made it look more interesting than it actually is.

Gameplay-wise, at least.

Summary: 

You play a 1st year starting out at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The events unfold somewhere between the fall of Voldemort and Harry Potter attending school (yeah, you don’t actually meet Harry and his friends – but the school teachers are all there, as are a few main characters in the books like Nymphadora Tonks and Bill Weasley).

Your character carries baggage upon arriving, as the story goes that you are searching for your missing brother, whom everyone says went mad looking for the Cursed Vaults. Determined to find out the truth whilst proving your worth, you set out on your very own Hogwarts adventure…

So this is me.. or my alter ego, ‘Lynx Athena’. Yeahhhhh I would have named myself that irl if I could lol judge me all you want. 😀

I’ve always felt that if I were to go to Hogwarts for real, I’d be a Ravenclaw, but for some reason the Sorting Hat on Pottermore put me into Gryffindor (twice, on two accounts) so I wanted to stay true to that.

The game allows you to choose your own house… which took away the whole sorting hat ‘suspense’. Character appearance customisations are limited until later in the game.

Now here comes the disappointing part: gameplay. 

I was expecting a more open, MMORPG experience where you can walk around and explore Hogwarts. Instead, we get a very linear gameplay, where you basically complete a ‘story’ by … wait for it…. tapping. Like one of those Kim K games. And waiting for energy to fill. Which requires no skill whatsoever.

Major. Downer. 

Granted, some of the stories and events do give you choices to pick from which will grant you attributes (Courage, Empathy, Knowledge) which will further give you better choices in future events, but then comes the next infuriating part – the wait itself.

Unlike games where you can watch ads to refill your energy, HP: AHM has NONE. You’re basically forced to buy gems, or wait a really, really, really long time. The gems are not in small amounts either eg 55 gems for 10 energy wtf.

Also, when you’re doing a major story, you’re not allowed to ‘leave’ the event to go explore or do other stuff – you’re basically FORCED to wait it out. WHAT?

The story itself is pretty interesting, but having to wait for so long takes away from the immersion. Its obvious the developers are forcing players to buy energy – it’s either that or progress the story by playing for 10 minutes and waiting 8 hours to complete an entire event. I also really hated the fact that after waiting for the energy to fill, you also have to WAIT BETWEEN EVENTS WTF. As I’m writing this, I have to wait three hours in order for the next event to be available. So a full energy bar is wasted, coz I don’t have anything else that I can do during this waiting time. They should call it Harry Potter: A Waiting Game. 

That being said, the game’s few redeeming qualities, including a beautiful design that remains true to the movies. I feel like players will get bored of this quickly though. There is only so much detail you can look at before you get bored and uninstall this forever.

As of now, I’m keeping the game because I’m curious to know the story, but with it panning out at a snail’s pace, I doubt I’ll have it around for long. Which is really disappointing, seeing that I was so excited as to how they finally have some new Hogwarts material after so many years. I understand it’s free, but it would have been nice if the app wasn’t such a blatant money grubbing attempt on Harry Potter fans.

Overall: 2/5 – purely from the story and graphics. I have no nice things to say about the gameplay, other than the ‘story’ part where they give you choices to pick.

 

 

Books, Bread and Ice Cream at Miyahara Optometry, Taichung

Nope, you read the title right. Your eyes aren’t playing tricks on you lol sorry I’m not that good with puns.

In the central district of Taichung City, an old eye hospital built in the 1920s is now a one-of-a-kind gourmet destination. Miyahara Optometry, established by Japanese ophtamologist Dr Miyahara Takeo during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan, was once the largest eye clinic in Taichung. After the Japs left, the two storey red brick building was converted into a Health Center, but was left vacant for years after it was identified as a dangerous post-earthquake building. Just five years ago, the place was bought over, refurbished and turned into a bakery-cum-ice-cream store. Needless to say, the crowds have been non-stop ever since.

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Stepping into the place is like coming onto a Harry Potter set.. or is it that library we see in Beauty and the Beast? Walls are stacked from floor to ceiling with wooden shelves packed with books, while wooden staircases jut out from the side (they look like they can almost swivel around magically, just like at Hogwarts!)

Now known as Dawn Cakes Flagship Store, visitors can find a myriad of candies, chocolates and their ever famous pineapple cakes – not to mention a range of yummy-licious ice cream flavours next door. Even if you’re not buying anything, a trip here is worth it just for photos!

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Taiwan shares a lot of similarities with Japan when it comes to food trends ie they have things that look too cute to be eaten. Teddy-bear shaped chocolates, for example.

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Cakes, wafers, cookies and candies are wrapped in book-shaped boxes, complete with legit-looking, fancy covers.

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The second floor houses the Moon Pavilion Restaurant, which was closed during our visit.

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The arched passageway on the outside, overhung with old-looking lamps, was packed with people queueing up for ice-cream next door. Observation: Taiwanese are hardcore foodies, and won’t hesitate to line up for hours to get their fix of whatever snack they’re craving. At all the famous food spots, we had to line up for a good half an hour or more.

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Dozens of flavours to choose from! Here, one will find the basic types like Vanilla and Chocolate, but also rather unusual combinations and local flavours, like Pineapple and mango, and even Chinese tea.

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Our set of two scoops with wafer and three condiments (150NT). Opted for Salted Caramel and Tieguanyin (Chinese tea). I liked the salted caramel better because it had an addictive, salty-sweet quality. Tieguanyin was pretty good too, although a tad bitter. The sweet and fragrant flower-shaped floral cake, butter teddy cookie and raisins balanced everything out with some sweetness.

PS: The menu is all in Chinese. If you, like me, can’t read Chinese characters and you don’t have a translator, you can always point ! xD

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Other buildings in the vicinity are not so lucky.

Many people have been saying that the economy in Taiwan has stagnated in the past decade. As an outside observer, I think this is partially true. There doesn’t seem to be many new projects going on, and ongoing ones seem to have been halted. While the city is certainly developed, buildings look old and decayed – like they’re badly in need of a fresh coat of paint.’

But I digress.

The Miyahara Eye Hospital is a sight for sore eyes, and a treat for the tummy. A must visit while in Taichung! 🙂

MIYAHARA OPHTHALMOLOGY DEPARTMENT (Dawn Cakes Flagship Store)

No. 20, Zhongshan Rd, Central District, Taichung City, Taiwan

Open: 10am – 10PM

 

 

30 Day Challenge Day 7

Today’s topic for the 30-day challenge! I’ve been doing this for a week and so far so good, haven’t missed any yet.

Do you read? What are your favourite books? 

I am an avid reader. My dream is to one day have my own library. With the way things are now – my OCD book buying syndrome:  buying books left and right without actually having time to finish reading them, my shelves are already filled with books. I might have to move them to storage boxes under the bed soon coz there is not enough space. Mum’s been nagging me to give some away, but like a hoarder I cant seem to part with a single one.

I have lots of favourite books, but I’m just gonna share a few that I never tire reading of.

HARRY POTTER

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My first Harry Potter book was actually the second in the series: The Chamber of Secrets. My cousin lent it to me when I was back visiting my hometown. Most of my classmates didn’t like reading (Malaysian kids. Go figure) so I had never heard of the spectacular adventures of this boy wizard. No doubt by the first few pages, I was hooked. I spent the rest of my visit with my nose buried in the book, nearly reading it to tatters as I brought it to the dining table, to the mall, everywhere. Once I got back, I bought the first book so that I could read from the start. The collection slowly expanded right up til high school and college.

It felt like something in me died when the book ended.

I grew up reading the HP series. I know every child secretly wished for a letter from Hogwarts.. including yours truly. 😛 Most people my age felt a strong connection to the characters because they grew up as we grew up: it was like they were close friends, a part of our lives. I loved the movie series too, as all the actors are my age.

There have been ups and downs in the HP books. Personally, I didn’t really like Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince. But I liked how Rowling’s writing became increasingly darker as the story progressed – it wasn’t all magical rainbows and unicorns all the way through. I also liked how she tackled issues like friendship, love and the battle of good against evil, encouraging values such as bravery, honesty, courage in the face of diversity, things we all need in real life.

LORD OF THE RINGS

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I admit it. I’ve never heard of Tolkien’s works until a brilliant filmmaker by the name of Peter Jackson decided to adapt it to the bigscreen. I. LOVE. THE. MOVIE. Me and my bro have watched it so many times we can recite parts of the dialogue from heart. But this meant that I only started reading the books when I was in late high school. Tolkien is by far my favourite author, and no one has been able to compare to him in my books. Engaging storytelling, the world of Middle Earth is told through such vibrant detail one can almost envision the sweeping panoramas of the land, the characters, and their quest to defeat evil. Tolkien was a master of linguistics, creating entire languages and writings for the races inhabiting his world.

I have been told that not everyone enjoys Tolkien’s books because of the way it is written. It is not simple and straightforward language, but prosy, complicated and absolutely beautiful. It makes it a joy to read each sentence. The Hobbit is much simpler than the LOTR series, but has the same witty charm.

If I were to put a ‘human’ face to the books, I would describe Lord of The Rings as being a wise old grandfather; ripe with knowledge and power, and yet with joy that bubbles forth like a sudden spring in the woods. Just like Gandalf, the wizard character in the books.

LIFE OF PI

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Last, but surely not least, is the Life of Pi by Yann Martel.

I also found out about this gem of a book from the movie adaptation. 😛 I absolutely loved the concepts depicted in the film, especially when it comes to spirituality, religion and soul-searching. The idea is original and fresh, and the way Martel describes it brings to life a kaleidoscope of colours and visuals to the mind. Each sentence is rich and full, like the swollen belly of a mother giving birth. You have to read it to understand. But yeah, it was a fascinating story – about an Indian boy who loses everything and shares a boat with a Bengal tiger, trying to survive the ocean. The relationship between Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker, is one that the reader can feel a true connection with various persons/things in our own lives. It really makes you reflect, and think.

 

There you go – my all time favourite books. If you haven’t read them before, do try to pick one up sometime soon! Meanwhile, feel free to suggest more good books – I’m always game for a great read.