On Wednesday the 25th of October proud Harry Potter fans congregated at the Athenaeum Theatre to celebrate twenty years since the release of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Yes – twenty years. It’s hard to imagine a life before the eponymous boy wizard, and indeed, since the release of the last book – Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – in 2007 we’ve hardly needed to. The last film was released in 2011 and since then, JK Rowling has drip-fed us snippets through Pottermore. Not to mention, there’s been a play (coming to Australia in 2019) and a dubious spin-off in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Fans have been well-catered for, but fans are always hungry for more and the Wheeler Centre is happy to oblige.
Harry Who? was a night of friendly debate, story-telling, comedy and music (including a performance by a quartet from Melbourne Symphony Orchestra) – a night designed, if not to answer, then to make us seriously question, who was the real hero of Hogwarts? An eclectic mix of Australia’s best and brightest floo-powdered their way on stage to clear things up (or perhaps, to muddy the waters) in what turned out to be a funny and surprisingly thought-provoking pseudo-debate.
Writer, comedian and poet Ben Pobjie presented the case for Lord Voldemort, observing that without him, there’d be no Harry at all. While his argument wasn’t near as convincing as his commentary in New Matilda, Crikey or The Age, he was a hilarious first act and it was hard to argue with his premise. He was followed by Clementine Ford, author of Fight Like a Girl, contributor to The Age and Sydney Morning Herald and general feminist bad-ass, who argued the case for Neville Longbottom, the boy almost was the boy who lived. In typical Ford fashion, she brought her toddler on stage, deftly deflecting his microphone-hungry hands while simultaneously cracking jokes, laying down some serious truths about crowd-favourites Harry and Ron and making an excellent case for Neville.
Up next was Nayuke Gorrie, a Kurnai/Gunai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri and Yorta Yorta writer and activist who came to the stage to represent Hermione Granger. Let’s face it – Hermione is undoubtedly the most obvious hero and Nayuke only really had to list her accomplishments to make that fact obvious. But she did it with a retreating humour that was truly endearing, and didn’t shy away from hitting some real truths. She was followed by Jessica Walton, author of Introducing Teddy (which she wrote to explain her dad’s transition into a woman to her son), queer, amputee, feminist and teacher. Jessica performed a truly inspired ode to Professor McGonagall, accompanied by her ukulele. It was a little twee, a little naughty and very, very good.
Cal Wilson followed with a hilarious and strangely believable fanfic about Mrs Norris. Cal, of course, is one of Australia’s most popular comedians and has frequently appeared on Have You Been Paying Attention, Spicks and Specks, Good News Week and the like. She brought all her stand-up experience to the debate and made a disturbingly good case for poor Mrs Norris. The last two speakers – CS Pacat defending Draco Malfoy and Josh Earl making the case for Mad Eye Moody failed to impress in quite the same way.
Pacat is the author of the Captive Prince trilogy, which began life as a web series before being acquired by Penguin US, and so it’s really no surprise that she picked Draco to support. While her costume was on point, her actual points failed to win the audience over and the whole thing felt a little lack-lustre. The audience was getting restless by the time Josh Earl, comedian and brain behind the childrens TV show My Family is Weider Than Your Family, and he did little to appease them – running through a bunch of jokes he’d allegedly told in a library ten years ago and repeatedly calling a teenage Somalian refugee ‘a jerk’ and hardly mentioning Moody at all. And you know, maybe that kid was a jerk, but it seems kind of weird to repeatedly make jokes about it given, you know, his jerkiness might come from the fact that he’s had a ridiculously difficult life, is now blind, and has to rely on some insensitive white man to read him the latest Harry Potter book.
The night was hosted by Candy Bowers, writer, actor, activist, comedian and hip hop artist. She was vibrant, engaging and funny, and kept the night moving, even when the audience wasn’t exactly helping her along. Her quick humour meant that any awkwardness from failed-audience interaction quickly dissipated and she even managed to turn a rather weird dancing-Harry ending around.
Said dancing Harry was played by Justin Heazlewood, the Bedroom Philosopher and writer of essays and two books (The Bedroom Philosopher Diaries and Funemployed). He brought a shuffling awkwardness to Harry that made for an interesting alternative to how he’s represented in, you know, everything else, but did manage to capture some of the self-involved whininess from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, so that’s a plus, I guess.