After less than a week of public previews, the decision has been made to removed live owls from all future performances of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Audiences members were informed by a sign at the Palace Theatre which stated there would be no live birds in the production.
The decision came after an owl failed to return to its handler and escaped into the auditorium during the first ever public performance.
In a statement released by the producer of the play, it was made clear that the owls were being expertly cared for, though changes were being made as was the normal process during the preview stage. The statement read:
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. 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, Member of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons) who ensured the owls' welfare and enrichment needs were safeguarded at all times. This was of utmost importance to the production.
Animal charity PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) has praised the decision, with director Mimi Bekhechi congratulating the crew for "coming to its senses" as well as "recognizing that treating owls like props goes against every message of respect and kindness that J.K. Rowling's wonderful books taught us."
Bekhechi went on to add that:
"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 theater — and that the possibilities of prop design are limited only by our own creativity."
Coincidentally, in the Harry Potter book series, the Ministry of Magic made a similar decision to discontinue using live owls due to their mess. The owls were instead replaced by enchanted paper airplanes.
The Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book will be available for purchase on July 31, and for audiences unable to attend the play in London, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them will be in cinemas on November 18.