For 10 years, a who's-who of British acting royalty has graced the (fictional) halls of Hogwarts in the eight Harry Potter films: Dames Maggie Smith, Julie Walters and Emma Thompson; Richard Harris, Alan Rickman, Robbie Coltrane and Sir Kenneth Branagh among them.

Now, two Kiwis, both theatre veterans, are part of the wizarding world – and the franchise has its first Māori Dumbledore. Gareth Reeves and George Henare have delighted Antipodean audiences with their performances in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling's theatrical sequel to her hit books and films that opened in Melbourne earlier this year.

Henare shows up as the late Professor Albus Dumbledore while Reeves is Harry Potter - only the boy wizard is all grown up and dealing with less magical problems then he's used to.

"He's the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, which is essentially a desk job and he's never been the desk job kind of person," Reeves explains. "He's also suffering from PTSD, he is basically a war veteran now."


The plot focuses on Harry's son, Albus, and his best friend, Scorpius (son of Draco Malfoy), as they struggle to live in their parents' shadows, sending them and their families down a new path of Dark Magic.

George Henare is Dumbledore and Gareth Reeves is Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, playing in Melbourne. Photos / Matthew Murphy
George Henare is Dumbledore and Gareth Reeves is Harry Potter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, playing in Melbourne. Photos / Matthew Murphy

It's a role Reeves was stunned to get. The Christchurch-born actor was in the middle of moving his family to Sydney for work when he got an audition. He had to move to Melbourne after he got the part.

He says the elements that fuelled the play – wondering where Harry is now – drew him to it.

For Henare, whose 50-year career has seen its fair share of high-profile jobs, to find himself in Potter was a surprise.

"I hadn't intended to even look at it as I had never really bothered with Harry Potter," he confesses, admitting he had looked at the films but they never really appealed to him.

Yet when the script came through, he was taken aback by the depth of the story and hurried to audition.

"Now that I'm in it, I'm seeing a whole different side of it," he says.

He has even let the producers sort him into a Hogwarts house (both Kiwis ended up in Gryffindor).

Gareth Reeves says Harry is dealing with
Gareth Reeves says Harry is dealing with "grown up" dilemmas in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo/Matthew Murphy.

When the play premiered on the West End in 2016, it provoked controversy after it was revealed Hermione Granger would be portrayed by a black actress, Noma Dumezweni. Three years later, Henare says there's been no fuss about a Māori Dumbledore.

"J.K. said 'I didn't stipulate race or anything', so shush!" he laughs.

Despite having died during the sixth book, Dumbledore appears via the "magical portraits" that are a cornerstone of the Potter world. Reeves admits that, despite six months of performances, Henare still surprises him some days when he appears behind him on stage.

It's just one of the many moments of theatrical magic that make Cursed Child a bewitching experience. Characters fly, disappear and transform before the audience's eyes, much of it seeming to defy the laws of physics.

Reeves says that the logistics are insane, requiring lengthy boot camp training and "hours and hours and hours" of rehearsal to get the magic done right.

"There are moments during the play where I come off stage and have to sprint. I'm feeling a little old and sore," he says, adding that it's all worthwhile to see it consistently delighting up to 1400 audience members every night.

"There's more choreography in the wings off the stage then there is on," jokes Henare, whose last major stage role was as the sultan in Disney's Aladdin: the musical.

He's more happy to keep his feet on the ground, recalling being suspended by wires while playing the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance.

It didn't end well: "I was dropped one night, and luckily the guy suddenly realised what he did. I went 'zip' and I thought 'the Pirate King is about to die'. Afterwards, I thought, 'that's it; I'm not flying ever again'!"

•Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne with tickets on sale until March 2020.