Let me paint you a picture. It's November 2015 and I am on holiday in Florence. Over breakfast one morning my friend asks me if I've bought tickets to go see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child yet. 'No', I say, 'is it hard to get tickets?'.
When my friend eventually stopped laughing, I went back to my hotel room, fired up my iPad and commenced the search for tickets. I wasn't in any great rush, and when I saw tickets were available around my birthday, I bought them.
Oh, not for my birthday 2016. Hell no. We're talking 2017. This years birthday celebration was 15 months in the making.
And so, for my 38th birthday, I went to go see Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, parts one & two. Part one on Thursday night and part two on Friday night.
I'm not a monster, so this post is totally spoiler-free, what I am going to do is give you some tips for when you go see the plays, because you should do. If you're a Potter nerd, you have to. You know when you went to watch Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them in the cinema last year and you felt like you got a big hug because you'd missed this world so much? It's that but with thousands of other people in the room, sat next to you, happy to start conversations about the Potter fandom and what house you got sorted into. It's like a convention in a theatre.
(EDIT: Oh god, this was such a good birthday treat, thorough pat on the back for 2015 Alex.)
Having spoken to a couple of people who have already seen the play, I knew the basics. Arrive early, you will need to be in your seat 15 minutes before curtain up and if you want merch, get there early. However, I'm going to expand on all these points because there's a bit more to it than that.
Doors open at 6.30pm but you can start queuing to get in the doors from around 5.45pm. The queue will run down the right hand side as you look at the front of the theatre. Handily, there are two pubs opposite the theatre (The Cambridge and The Spice of Life), I recommend The Spice of Life as you can look out of the window and wait to see the queue forming before leaving your pint and joining the queue. They also do really nice food in there and the ladies toilets are next to the side door, which exits right into the theatre queue (also useful if you're in the queue and desperate to pee). The doors will not open until 6.30pm though, and only half the queue is under the cover of the theatre awnings, so bear that in mind if England is being English with the weather and it's chucking it down with rain.
This is why you're queuing. You cannot set foot in the theatre without a ticket because the first thing you see is merchandise and the merch contains spoilers. Parts one & two both have different merch and they're only for sale during each of the relevant parts. So if you spot something you want for Part one, BUY IT. By the time Part two happens, it won't be there (yes, even if you see both plays on the same day, you have to leave the theatre between shows and the merch switches). Merch is also on limited quantities to what is there in the shop on the day, so when it's gone, you've missed your chance. I was in the first 15 people in the doors each day and therefore had no trouble getting what I wanted to buy, but things go fast. By the time the play is over, it's slim pickings.
Also, some tills are cash only, so make sure you ask before you get things rung through.
You also can get one of these badges as you leave the theatre, they're free and only available at the end of Part One, so make sure you look for the people with the baskets as you're leaving through the main doors.
Everyone is excited as you are so it's easy to strike up a conversation with the people around you. I was sat next to two ladies on holiday from California and Virgina, one of which was there for her birthday celebration (because all be best people are born in March, obvs), and sat behind a mum and daughter on Spring Break from Florida. If they've bought tickets the same way you have, you'll be sat with them for 6 or so hours that day, or you'll be seeing them again tomorrow night, so have a chat. Actually, do this in the queue as well. I spoke to many tourists from the US that were under the impression that the Studio Tours in Watford were 4 hours away and had decided not to go based on that bad information. (Note: it takes 25 minutes to get to Watford Junction from London Euston and the bus to get to the Studios is free from there, and only takes about 15-20 minutes, it's easily doable in a day from anywhere in London, please don't miss out!)
Go to the Stage Door afterwards
It always seems strange to me that stage doors for shows in London can be so quiet when there's no big names in the production. Not only is this a great way to meet the cast and get your programme signed, it's a great opportunity to tell the cast how much you enjoyed the show, which I'm sure they never tire of hearing.
The guy playing Albus was the most enthusiastic stage-door-signer ever, when I told him how much I enjoyed the plays and it must be the best job he could have he responded with 'I get to be a wizard every time, my job is great!'. Right on.
Some of the cast will do selfies, some won't. I'm more of an autograph and a chat gal, anyway. I told the actor playing Hermione that she was my new favourite Hermione and she genuinely lit up. This cast love their job; if you get chance go tell them what you thought of the show, they seems genuinely happy to stand and sign, chat and pose for selfies for as long as they are able to.
The House of MinaLima
Word is slowly spreading about this little place on Greek Street (just behind the theatre), which is an exhibition and shop of the graphic art of the Harry Potter films. Free entry, anyone can wonder in and you will want to wander in as it's so colourful. You know the Marauders Map? These are the folks who designed it.
It's a nice stop off point if you want something to do between the shows if you're seeing them all on one day, or I went in the afternoon on Friday to get me in the mood.
It's open from 12pm to 7pm every day. Even if you're just in London for a jolly, go and have a look around.
It's also right next door to Maison Bertaux, who do most excellent tea and cakes.
Unless you manage to get some on release, you might have some trouble here. There's a returns queue that you can join at the theatre on the day that allocate returns on a first come-first served basis but you will pay face value for them. Remember the birthday holiday ladies from the US? They paid £400 for their tickets for the two nights. If you want them, you can get them, but my gosh, you will pay for them.
But there's also the Friday Forty lottery, which is helpful if you're a little more flexible. Every Friday at 1pm, the website release 40 tickets for every performance over the following week at £40 (£20 per part). You're limited to buying two, and you can only buy them on the website on Fridays at 1pm. It's worth bookmarking this link if you want to have a go at this.
Honestly, I waited 15 months to see these plays and I didn't mind at all. It was worth it.
Obviously, I had a great time seeing these shows and loved them. The only way I've been able to describe them to people is it's like watching brilliant West End Theatre with Vegas-level magic making it happen in front of you. It can't be explained well and it can't be imagined (albeit we all tried when reading the script but nope, you can't). The cast are all wonderful, the production is incredible and it was worth every penny and every day of waiting.
No spoilers, as agreed, but I'll tell you one thing, and it's something I never thought I'd say ...
... I frigging love the Malfoys.