Since its debut in bookstores and in theaters, the world of Harry Potter has continued to amaze and excite, wowing viewers into a world of friendship, righteousness, and of course, magic. The story has continued through texts, recent attractions at Universal Studios, a new mobile video game, and the Fantastic Beasts films. Over the decades, an entire global community of fans has been drawn to The Wizarding World.
Embracing the fun and thrill of The Wizarding World, many fans of taken to their own creative talents to bring the world to life. At Wizard World Philadelphia, Potterheads and perspective fans alike were treated to the debut of Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d, a new show that combines scripts, improv, and alcohol to tell the story of Harry Potter’s first year at Hogwarts.
Wizard World Philadelphia hosted the debut of this new show from the New York City group, The Drunk Texts, a formation of actors brought together by the New York-based Random Access Theatre from Brooklyn New York. Based on the description, I knew I was in for something special, and as it was certainly quite the spectacular show. Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d takes the story of Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone and infuses it with the modern English of William Shakespeare.
What does this mean? Well, the entire telling of events is told in the style and manner in which Shakespeare wrote his plays, Shakespearian English if you will. In addition to infusing Shakespeare, Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d is also a drinking game. The actors indicate the rules for when a shot must be taken. Typically at saying of the word, or use of, magic during the show. Finally, the show infuses improvisation, music, and audience participation. As mentioned before, Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d is a drinking game, and in addition to the cast drinking hard rum onstage, every member of the audience had a beer or two.
Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d was phenomenal, and used fantastic whimsical and clever writing with a charged physical energy and intelligent improvisation. The casting was diverse and enthusiastic, as well as truly authentic to themselves. They were not trying to portray their characters to the exact source material, but they infused themselves with the source material and created something truly unique and refreshing. The entire cast was great, but the actors behind Harry, Dumbledore, Hermoine, and Snape, were spectacular. Some of the cast played multiple roles as well. There were moments where they forgot their lines or need further explaining of the lines, which made the acting even more enjoyable.
When Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone was adapted into a full theatrical event, the movie was visually spectacular, as expected. Naturally, The Drunk Texts didn’t have a full stage or expensive visual effects, but they compensated with practical props, cellphones, and even flapping their scripts. Several moments, in particular, demonstrated their ability to think on the move.
When Harry receives his wand for the first time, the cast used their scripts and cellphone lights to present the glow and wind of the scene. During the fight with the Cerebus, they used a giant puppet of a furry warthog, openly acknowledging that the puppet was, indeed, a warthog, and not a dog. The cast used a Youtube Clip of a famous real-world Quidditch player to explain the rules of Quidditch. And finally, during the final act, they used a giant prop of a baby’s face and attached it to the back of the actor portraying Profesor Quirrell to recreate Lord Voldemort’s big reveal.
Since Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d was a show built around audience participation, some were chosen to act on the stage. As the show was a drinking game, various rules were followed, and as the show focused around magic, it’s safe to say that the audience and cast were feeling rather loose by the end of the performance.
Major characters, in particular, drank rum between major segments, all to the tune of “Shots” by LMFAO ft. Lil Jon. The alcohol did change the mood of the show from fun and organized to free-flowing and energized. By the end of the performance, even the cast and crew recognized that they were feeling anywhere between tipsy and slightly drunk. All in all, it was a spectacular performance.
I came away from Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d amazed and genuinely feeling good, as comedy should make you feel. It reminded me of an older show I watched in high school at the Spring Lake Theatre, called Shakespeare Abridged, where a trio of men went through all 91 of Shakespeare’s plays, using improv, volunteers from the audience, pop-culture references, and an eclectic array of comedy. Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d and Shakespeare Abridged have comedy in common, but most importantly, they allow for creative and comedic freedoms, as well as a dynamic form of expression. I am a believer that in comedy, there is a truth, especially when done with heart and effort.
For Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d, it is no mockery or soulless mimicry of J.K Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but instead, a celebration of this wildly enjoyable fantasy world. The show was also a form of respect for the characters and themes woven into the Wizarding World, as well as Shakespeare. The names, mannerisms, even events all evoke a sense of whimsical wonder and The Drunk Texts have created their own style and substance in The Wizarding World.
Harry The First, or The Knave Who Hath Liv’d is modern and clever yet poignant and authentic. The Drunk Texts tell a story both as fans and actors, and that is an important expression to show. The troupe is based out of New York City, and as a New Jersey resident, take it from my account that getting into the city is expensive and consuming. Having seen The Drunk Texts live their next big production is more than worth the trip into the city.
Random Access Theatre Company is based out of Brooklyn, New York and seeks to create one-of-a-kind productions with a diverse range of talent. Please follow them on social media, and visit their website here.