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My Harry Potter Experience

July 13, 2016

Sunday 10th July 2016 was my day. All those months ago, when I was lucky enough to be in the first 400 to buy tickets, it finally arrived. Needing something to blog about today, I thought I’d add a few thoughts.

Don’t worry, I’m #keepingthesecret, and my opinion on the shows will be published on after press night, in keeping with tradition. There will be no spoilers either now or when that opinion appears. Millions of fans deserve, I think, to come to the show as I did, knowing and expecting, without any clue what will happen.

What I will say is that it took some planning. So…

It’s a really long day. I left home at 11am, didn’t get back until 10pm. Some 5 hours 15 minutes of theatre, with a 2 hour 40 minute gap between. That’s intense, and if you are bringing children, it has to make even the liveliest wand wilt.

My first concern was the worrying email sent before the show about needing to be there an hour before to go through security. This turns out to be a roped off area under the main theatre canopy, with the most cheerful security staff – armed with their own type of wand, to check bags. There’s plenty of them – 4, for a mere 1400 customers, and if you don’t have a bag, you go on through anyway.

Two things bothered me. First, waiting in line (come December, I’m thinking you could sell a LOT of hot water bottles to all involved). That one wasn’t a problem. Sure, the line went from down the side of the theatre, turned a corner and went further round the block. It moved fast, less than 10 minutes to reach the head of it. Coming back for Part 2, just 15 minutes to spare for me, and I walked straight to the table.

Second thing that bothered me – they don’t allow you to bring food in. Sensible. Some audiences think they can eat McDonalds during a show… trust me, NOT a good idea. However, there are a few like myself who (for personal reasons) need to bring something. No problem. An email to them well in advance, and the duty manager knew all about it and was delighted to assist. He even recognised me second time around.

If you think the elaborate and beautifully themed tickets, website and emails are something, trust me, the experience extends to the staff. Disney theme park standard, the lot of them (or should it be Universal Studios this time?). Once past security, your tickets are taken at the main doors (rather than at the auditorium entrance inside, as is usual). Melissa is the staff member to look out for. An amazing sense of humour, this is the welcome anyone at a theatre would want – and another person with a memory for faces.

In the foyer, a massive souvenir shop has everything from pencils to (expensive, as in, Poundland does them way cheaper) owls, large and small. By the staircase, though, is the programme desk, a reasonable £5 for the two parts – at normal West End prices, I’d have expected twice £4. And it’s a decently written one too, with plenty to read.

A nice touch for non-regulars is that all the doors are numbered, and the numbers marked on your tickets. This theatre has a single staircase to all levels, and doors 1 and 2 are for the stalls (downstairs, ground level), 3 and 4 at dress circle level (first tier), 5 and 6 for the grand circle (second tier) and 7 and 8 for the balcony (third tier, and a long walk up the stairs). Staff seem attuned to helping newcomers, and their directions to seats is impeccable.

Once seated, I have to say the audience experience, for me at least, was wonderful. Well behaved, children wearing Hogwarts Uniforms (no Slytherins, all Gryffendors, I think), even the odd adult with a Potter scarf. I was also lucky that those around me were well-behaved, and there was something surreal about seeing the same folk in the same seats return for the second play. Not sure what. I guess if someone tall / annoying is nearby, you have a problem, but I didn’t.

Only thing to remember – it’s really hot in the theatre. The Palace isn’t known for air-conditioning, and even on a 22 degree Celsius day, it was sweaty in the front stalls (a woman in front of me kept taking off her light fleece and putting it on again). Be prepared for all climates, I’d say.

Anyhow, what to do during the break? I tried something new – a “day room” at the Academy Hotel on Gower Street. 15 minute walk for me, 25 or so I guess for someone slower. Fairly expensive at £59, but it worked. A small third floor en-suite hotel room. Somewhere I could relax in peace, eat, wash (have a shower if I’d felt like it), write my notes up, watch Murray win Wimbledon. Around 2 hours for the same price as I’ve paid for a play of similar length. Worked for me – and if you think that the cost can be split among friends, it’s an idea that beats trailing the streets for the time, I feel.

It’s a long, long day, I think, and I do urge that you plan it a bit, but for those “doing the double” it’ll certainly be a different way of spending your weekend… and one you can’t talk about. You get a free badge after each show – the ushers hand them out. The badge reads “#keepthesecrets,” so, please, do!

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