Entertainment & Arts

Live owls dropped from Harry Potter play

Snowy owl Image copyright Nigel Blake
Image caption Snowy owls, popularised in the Harry Potter books, are extremely rare in the UK.

The new Harry Potter play in London has removed the use of live owls from the production.

The decision follows an incident during Tuesday's first show when an owl escaped into the auditorium.

The bird had failed to return to its handler after making a brief flight during a scene.

Previews of the two-part play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, began this week.

At Thursday's performance of part two, a sign at the Palace Theatre informed the audience that there were "no real birds" in the production.

Image caption Signs were displayed at the theatre

A statement issued on behalf of the producers said: "The production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently in its preview stage, with the process designed to allow the creative team time to rehearse changes or explore specific scenes further before the play's official opening.

"As part of this process earlier this week the decision was made not to feature live owls in any aspect of the production moving forward.

"The owls that were associated with the production were expertly cared for by a team of certified trainers and an on-site specialist veterinary surgeon (Steve Smith, MRCVS) who ensured the owls' welfare and enrichment needs were safeguarded at all times.

"This was of utmost importance to the production."

Fan excitement for JK Rowling

Animal charity Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) welcomed the news.

"Peta commends the production team for coming to its senses and recognising that treating owls like props goes against every message of respect and kindness that JK Rowling's wonderful books taught us," director Mimi Bekhechi said.

"Harry Potter can now join the ranks of innovative stage productions like War Horse, The Lion King and Running Wild which prove that animals need not be exploited for the theatre - and that the possibilities of prop design are limited only by our own creativity."

Shortly before the second half of Thursday's performance started, JK Rowling was spotted in a box stage right, causing screams of excitement from the audience with hundreds craning their necks trying to catch a glimpse of her.

The show does not have its official opening until 30 July.

Based on an original story by Rowling, writer Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, the play is set 19 years after the events of the seventh and final book in the series, the Deathly Hallows.

It portrays a grown-up Harry (Jamie Parker) as an employee at the Ministry of Magic, while his youngest son Albus (Sam Clemmett) has to deal with the "heavy burden" of the Potter family legacy.

The show runs in the West End to May 2017.

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