As costume designer Katrina Lindsay works, she visualizes a sculptural picture and color palette of what will be seen onstage. “When designing anything from the main character looks to the school jumpers, it’s like viewing a painting,” she explains. With that in mind, Lindsay had a sudden, panicky thought while sketching out the costumes for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in her home studio.
“I remember thinking, oh god, everything’s going to be black and everything’s going to be the same silhouette with the cloaks. How do I make it varied? And,” she adds, “how do I achieve that in a way that feels right for this world?” Prior to her involvement with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Lindsay won Outer Critics Circle, Drama Desk, and Tony awards for her costume design of Les Liaisons Dangereuses, as well as an Olivier Award nomination for Bend It Like Beckham: The Musical. Her work spans from theater to opera, ballet to film, where she designs sets as well as costumes, and has done both regularly for the National Theatre. Working in tandem with Lindsay was Carole Hancock, department head of WHAM, aka Wigs, Hair, and Makeup.
The WHAM acronym came about prior to Cursed Child, when Hancock was working on the London production of The Lion King. “I was so tired of being called the wig lady,” she recalls. “We’re bigger than that.”
So she and the head of the department came up with the name change, and that’s what she’s called her department ever since. Hancock came on the show right before rehearsals began and started brainstorming ideas with Lindsay based on Rowling’s books and copious research on both their parts. “There are portrait galleries to visit,” says Hancock, “and the internet has heaps of stuff, of course. I’ve got a plethora of books of period hairstyles and weird fashions. You may not use them, but they’re inspiration.” Hancock and Lindsay put together a board of their ideas, not unlike set designer Christine Jones’s collage. “We had images of students and teachers, London schoolkids and Scottish schoolkids,” says Hancock, describing their thoughts about the contemporary generation, but they also considered the well-established characters from the books.
“In a way, we already knew what Dumbledore or Hagrid were like. But Katrina and I worked together on what we thought those characters should be and how we would tweak them and change them a little bit.” Designing the costumes and looks for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child presented an unusual task: They should be unique to the production, but the audience still needed to recognize each character immediately as soon as he or she stepped onstage. Harry Potter wouldn’t be Harry Potter without his wayward hair, glasses, and lightning scar, but how would he look now as a Ministry worker, frazzled father, and, simply, an adult? Lindsay strove for a balance of what she felt readers’ expectations were and a wizarding world that was recognizable but had evolved in the nineteen years that had passed since Harry’s time at Hogwarts ended.
“There is a very British, vintage aesthetic that we identify with the world of Harry Potter, and that comes through in the color palette, the materials, and the headwear,” she explains. “There is also an atmospheric type of beauty to the world of the play. This world is a mixture of the everyday alongside the magical and more fantastical. And for me, that’s the important balance to express. You’re not just one thing—you’re both.”
The design of the costumes evolved from initial sketches to new approaches based on Lindsay’s involvement in the show’s workshops with the other creative team members, and then rehearsals, consulting with each actor about their character’s look. “I felt that my task as a designer was to be true to the physical language happening onstage and the actors who were creating the characters,” says Lindsay.
American-born Mary Halliday and British-born Lisa Buckley, the props supervisors for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, were tasked with finding magical herbs and potions bottles, tables and chairs, owls, and wands.
“Some supervisors are also makers,” says Halliday, “whereas Lisa and I are not. We have zero artistic skills as far as actually making something with our hands,” she adds with a laugh. What Halliday and Buckley do count among their skills is finding the right people to provide what they need.
“It’s about finding the person who’s best suited to do it.Then we make sure they have the information they need—all the references and all the materials,” Halliday says. “It’s a lot like feeding info to many baby birds.”
Buckley explains that one of the most important parts of their job is having a good address book. “Knowing people and having good relationships is key,” she says. The two women had worked separately or together on several Sonia Friedman productions, as well as having worked with Jones and Banakis, so they felt this was a great opportunity to all work together. Both admit that they were not as familiar with the Harry Potter story as others on the creative team. “At the end of the Kennington workshop, I literally asked Brett what a Muggle was,” says Halliday. “He was like, how are you part of this? How are you even here?” She also remembers googling “Moaning Myrtle” during tech rehearsals.
“I didn’t know her story,” she says. “Who is this woman and why is she living in the bathroom?” Halliday and Buckley found many of the pieces online or at vintage markets or thrift stores. Headmistress McGonagall’s desk is from a church. Amos Diggory’s wheelchair was found on eBay. Bespoke props include papers printed with the Hogwarts and Ministry of Magic logos. Buckley feels that a thorough knowledge of the wizarding world wouldn’t actually have been an advantage. “I thought the whole point was for us to react and respond to what came out of the rehearsal room. I think it was, personally, better to have come to it without too many preconceived ideas. If you do, you can’t help but think, oh, that’s not how I imagined it. Or, I didn’t really see it like that. But I didn’t have any frame of reference, so it was really helpful.”
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey, by Jody Revenson, publishes today in the UK and 5 November, 2019 in the US.