Harry Potter and the Curse of COVID

Harry Potter and the Curse of COVID

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Theatrical megahit Harry Potter and the Cursed Child returns for its first performances in a year on Thursday. But not even the boy wizard can magic away the state government’s COVID-19 restrictions. The government had assured uber producer Michael Cassel and his team that the opening night on Thursday at the Marriner Group’s Princess Theatre could be held under COVID-normal capacity of 85 per cent.

But on Monday morning Martin Foley’s Department of Health told executives that the theatre was only allowed to open at “circuit breaker” 50 per cent capacity. Friday’s box office would also be stung because the play is performed as a two-parter.

“It’s disappointing but there are bigger things at play,” Cassel said. “I think everyone would have liked to have had more notice than this, but we’re dealing with something that’s continuing to evolve and we just have to take it on the chin.”

Cassel isn’t prepared to say just how big a hit the capacity cutback would have on the production, but said it was a “financial imperative” Potter was performed to a theatre at 85 per cent capacity. So 50 per cent can hardly be profitable.

The state’s creative industries hit hard by COVID restrictions have been voting with their feet, with Melbourne based television productions including Ten’s The Masked Singer and Nine’s Australian Ninja Warrior relocating to more reliable Sydney.

Harry Potter publicists, caught on the hop by the sudden 35 per cent reduction of audience capacity, were phoning around to VIP invitees requesting they give up their free tickets so as not to crush the hopes of paying customers, some of whom have sat on tickets since March last year. More than 500 ticket holders have been affected. Yep, it is that serious.

Consulting the calendar

Media titan Bruce Gordon and law firm owners John Atanaskovic and Tony Hartnell are set to square off in court over a multimillion-dollar fraud allegedly committed against Gordon by a junior working inside Atanaskovic Hartnell offices. But the schedules of both parties’ top-flight legal teams have caused an additional court skirmish.

The appeal involved a costs hearing last year, when a judge found that Atanaskovic Hartnell was not entitled to recover fees of $150,000 it had charged Gordon’s private investment vehicle Birketu for investigating the very fraud allegedly committed by one of its employees. Atanaskovic Hartnell already has a judgment debt of about $1 million against Birketu, recorded last year, which Birketu is not appealing.

Shane Doyle and Bret WalkerCredit:John Shakespeare

It turns out Gordon’s barrister Bret Walker SC and Atanaskovic’s representative Shane Doyle QC are very busy men. Atanaskovic Hartnell applied to shift the date of the appeal because its senior counsel, the Brisbane-based Doyle was no longer available. Turns out he had flown to Britain late last year and was unable to return to Oz in time. The corona, you see.

Additionally, Doyle expressed reluctance to fly back until he had received a COVID vaccination. So Atanaskovic Hartnell asked to change the date of the three-day hearing. But if only things were that easy. Gordon’s senior counsel Walker – who is representing Birketu – only has “very limited availability” to commit to three full days “at any later date this year”. Some of Walker’s recent professional engagements include his stint last year as the commissioner of the special inquiry into the Ruby Princess’ arrival in Sydney. And he successfully acted in Cardinal George Pell’s successful High Court appeal. Clearly the type of work that puts one in demand.

Why not pivot to Zoom? Doyle had ruled out representing his clients via videolink from Britain, explaining that with three sessions scheduled in the dead of the British night, he feared he couldn’t “safely” do justice to the appeal.

Justice Fabian Gleeson, who dismissed Atanaskovic Hartnell’s motion, clearly wasn’t too sympathetic.

″I accept that Mr Doyle genuinely holds such belief. That however is not a compelling reason to grant an adjournment.”

Melbourne’s Jonathon Moore QC had been appointed as Doyle’s replacement.

At a premium

It’s no secret COVID has put an epic dent in political fundraising coffers at the start of what could be an election year. But Labor deserves credit for serious pluck after its latest tin rattling scheme. The ALP Federal Labor Business Forum is offering tickets to a “Remote Q&A” with deputy leader Richard Marles and newly minted agriculture and resources spokesman Ed Husic. Clear your diary for March 11.

The online, hour-long Zoom call is a premium priced affair – Labor’s donations machine is charging $2500 a ticket for non-members, while members pay $2000. A generous discount, to be sure. And given the ticket doesn’t even include a glass of warm Australian sparkling, there must be some serious top-level access on offer. Curiously, the ALP’s Annual Leader and Shadow Ministry Dinner (a real, not virtual event) scheduled for March 3 in Sydney promises better value. Federal Labor Business Forum organisers are flogging tickets for $800 a piece and tables of nine plus a shadow cabinet member for $8000. We’re not sure what that says about the talent on offer.

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