Sounds Like Magic: An Interview with “Cursed Child” Sound Designer Gareth Fry
There are a lot of people responsible for making Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a reality, from J.K. Rowling, to playwright Jack Thorne, to director John Tiffany, to the cast of the show, and beyond. But one aspect many fans may never have thought much about is the play’s sound design. We don’t mean the show’s composer either – we mean the engineer who creates the sounds of the wizarding world, like spells and the creaking halls of Hogwarts.
That responsibility was left to Gareth Fry, a sound designer who has worked with director John Tiffany for over a decade. Fry, who had read the Harry Potter books and seen the films before beginning his work, points out the unique challenges of designing for Rowling’s world:
As a sound designer, if I work on, say, a play set in 19th[-c]entury London, I’d start with various recordings of horses and carriages and so on. But for this, because virtually everything is magical, we’ve had to create the sounds from scratch. You can type ‘horse and carriage’ into a sound effects database and get lots of results, but if you type the name of a spell into it you get nothing!
Myself and associate Pete Malkin set ourselves two rules to create the spell sounds: no wind chimes and no ‘whooshes’. We ended up breaking that last rule a few times, but it was a good limitation to set when starting out, so everything wasn’t just a ‘whoosh’. But there are no wind chimes! It’s useful to set yourself rules, especially ones to avoid the most obvious route – it makes you work harder and find more interesting ways of doing things.
What’s more, Fry recognized the unique challenges of making magic feel real for those in the audience.
It is as important as making the magic seem real as it is to create that sense of magic in how the story is told. I think this is why this play works so well as a theatre piece: theatre is a great form for conjuring the fantastical without having to render it into naturalistic form. That the magic is all real, is all done live in front of you, just adds to the evocation of the world.
To create the specific sounds needed for the show, Fry worked in the theater during rehearsals to make sure his design fit in seamlessly with what was happening on stage. When designing, he has to pay attention not only to what the actors are saying but also where their voices are coming from and how sound travels in the theater itself. You can read more about the technical details of his work in the original interview.
Fry also shared his favorite part of the show to work on:
Some of the smaller scenes between two of the fathers and between the sons, they talk about what it’s like in the parent-child relationship, those are my favourite parts: the writing is so strong and has such heart to it, it brings me to tears every time…
And that is what was always the strongest about the books too – not the magic, but the relationships between those characters. And that’s why people are coming to see it. It’s been an amazing show to be part of, because our audiences come along completely vested in those characters, knowing them inside out. It’s rare for a theatre audience – or any type of audience for that matter – to have such an emotional attachment to what they are watching, and that makes the show far more electric to watch than any show I’ve worked on.
Have you seen Fry’s design at work? What did you think of it? What do you think are the most impressive technical achievements of the show?