BBC RADIO/MANUEL HARLAN
Theatre producer Sonia Friedman of Harry Potter And The Cursed Child
The West End impresario has been dubbed “the most powerful woman in theatre” but it was her troubled childhood that gave her the inspiration to produce the smash-hit London show.
Abandoned by her father before she was born Friedman and her three siblings were raised by their mother.
It was Friedman who took the concept for the show to Harry Potter creator JK Rowling who then helped mould it into the award winning production.
Appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs Friedman, 52 said: “My co-producer Colin Callender and I were very drawn to the notion of Harry as a dad, given that he hadn’t had parents of his own, and Jo loved that idea.
I’ve never really had a dad, which I know is something that’s completely formed who I am
Sonia Friedman – Theatre producer
“I will never understand what it would be like to have a dad and so I’m always looking for stories that might help me understand and I feel incredibly privileged and blessed that I can use my emotional background and my experiences to encourage others to put it on to paper and then to put it on to a stage."
Friedman currently has eight shows running in the West End, including Dreamgirls and The Book Of Mormon, and is soon to have four on Broadway.
Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, which opened last year, has won nine Olivier awards.
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Friedman, who said her childhood was “chaotic and bohemian”, marked by truancy and bullying, fought back tears as she talked about her father, eminent violinist Leonard Friedman.
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She added: “I’ve never really had a dad, which I know is something that’s completely formed who I am.
“If there was a concert or something maybe we would go and sit in an auditorium and watch him play. But I had no relationship with him other than he would say hello to me or pat me on the head or something. I never got a birthday present from him, I never got a Christmas present from him.
“He died in 1994. The day or two before he died I had an urge to see him. At the end of the supper he just turned to me and he said, ‘Sonia, I’m very proud of you.’ Those were the last words he ever said to me.
“I don’t blame him.
"I know that as a kid he had a very difficult life. His parents pushed him to be an extraordinary musician. He was told, ‘Put your music first, put your art first’, and eventually he did.”
Her mother, concert pianist Clair Llewelyn Friedman, now 85, juggled jobs as a piano teacher and London tour guide to single-handedly support the family.
Friedman currently has eight shows running in the West End and is soon to have four on Broadway
“There was no real parental influence or authority in the home,” said Friedman.
“My memory is the house was just full of animals and music but never any food and certainly no structure. We four children survived through creativity and games. I literally have no memory of ever being told to go to bed, being woken up to go to school or family meals.”
One of Sonia’s chosen tracks was her mother playing Debussy’s Clair De Lune. Other songs included her sister, singer and actress Maria Friedman, singing Stephen Sondheim’s Children And Art and her violinist brother Richard Friedman performing with their father.
Despite “a pretty sketchy education” which saw her expelled and a persistent truant, Friedman went on to work with leading names in theatre, including Harold Pinter.
Her first job interview was with Laurence Olivier and Joan Plowright in their kitchen and she landed the job as stage hand at the age of 19.
She now heads up Sonia Friedman Productions and since 1990 has produced more than 160 productions.
Friedman took the concept for the show to Harry Potter creator JK Rowling who then helped mould it
As someone who juggles productions around the world and in various time zones she spoke candidly of how her demanding career has impacted on her life. “I’ve never had a family… not a conventional one,” she said.
“I did meet someone and helped bring up two children, so I think I can say I have two stepchildren and I’m proud to say it, although I broke up with their father.”
Sonia chose a cello as her luxury item and the Oxford Book of English verse as her book.
Desert Island Discs, is on Radio 4 today at 11.15am