On August 14, we smugglers were lucky enough to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London. Here are our thoughts about it – warning: spoilers and emotions.
Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.
It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.
While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.
This is a review in two parts, and it contains a preface and an epilogue.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play. It sounds obvious to say that but it is really important, essential even, to reinforce it: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play. It is meant to be seen.
I saw the play last week, on Sunday 14 2016. I saw it with a best friend and my partner, from great seats, right at the beginning of the show’s run, with the original cast. I am fully aware of my privilege (which I will get back to later). Regardless of what I thought about the content itself, as a Harry Potter fan, as a theatre fan, it was, hands down, one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was exciting, emotional and my own feelings were amplified by the phenomenal acting and the amazing special effects.
At the risk of sounding utterly cheesy, it was magical.
Part I of the play was incredible. I have nothing to find fault with. I spent the whole of those 2 hours and 45 minutes crying my eyes out from seeing our beloved characters again.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a time travel story! Hermione is the Minister for Magic! Harry’s scar is hurting again! Harry is not the best father in the world to his middle child Albus! Albus got sorted into Slytherin – there were audible gasps from the audience – and becomes best friends with Scorpius Malfoy (more gasps)!
The play has two main emotional cores: Harry and his relationship with this son Albus. And Albus and Scorpius’ friendship.
The former is beautiful and heart-wrenching. It is difficult to see Harry making the mistakes he makes dealing with Albus because they are at such odds. But it is understandable: Harry had a difficult childhood and Albus is not an “accomplished” child, living in the shadows of his great father and his friends. His best friend at the start is the ubber accomplished Rose, Ron and Hermione’s daughter (Rose sadly disappears from the play almost entirely soon after it starts) but navigates toward someone who understands about legacy, pressure and loneliness: Draco Malfoy’s nerdy son Scorpius. Their friendship develops against all odds because they are both outsiders.
The two kids become BFFs and decide to mess with time to prove they are worthy, by saving someone who was also an outsider (“the spare”): Cedric Diggory. They use a time turner to go back and predictably, mess the entire timeline in the process. Part I ends with Scorpius completely alone in an alternate dystopian universe where Albus doesn’t exist, Harry Potter is dead and Voldemort rules.
Part II was a mess – it was almost a let-down in comparison to Part I. This is probably due to the fact that, unfortunately, the play does not explore the full implications of Part I, it does not play with time travel as it could have done, and I would have given ANYTHING to see Scorpius Malfoy become the main hero of the play for longer. The mystery surrounding the cursed child herself – Voldemort’s daughter with Bellatrix Lestrange is so WEIRD and it just didn’t mesh well with the rest of the play at all – it was in fact, almost completely pointless. Even though one could argue that again, that plotline fits with the main thematic core of the play: the relationship between (in)famous) fathers and kids and the expectations the latter suffer.
Unlike Part I, where everything worked as a whole, Part II was a play of moments and those moments almost made up for the weaker whole:
-Seeing Snape again being so brave;
-There is a scene between Harry and Dumbledore’s portrait in which Harry is bitter and hurt and lets is all out “WHY DID YOU LEAVE ME AT PRIVET DRIVE FOR SO LONG” and it was the acting more than anything else in this scene that truly killed it. I have no words for Jamie Parker as Harry Potter: he left me speechless. This scene in particular, was heartbreaking, he was sobbing out loud and I doubt anyone in the theatre had dry eyes at this point;
-To learn that this terrible alternate version of the tale happens because the kids saved Cedric by humiliating him during the Triwizard Tournment, and because of that he turned into a bitter man who became a Death Eater and his one, single terrible act was killing Neville Longbottom who then never killed Nagini. GOOSEBUMPS.
-The dementors flying on stage and then toward the audience was TERRIFYING;
-After they sort it all out, Albus and Scorpius then HAVE to let Cedric get killed. This is mirrored beautifully in the last, harrowing scene of the play where they all have to let Harry’s parents get killed – and witness it. *GROSS SOBBING*. I can’t stress enough the power of this moment as played before our eyes. I can’t image a script capturing it in all its glory.
-Everything is about friends and not being alone.
So where does that leave me? With the feeling that I experienced something truly great and yet very, very flawed. It’s like I did some time travelling myself, because that was always my feeling about the series. My criticisms about this play apply to the rest of the series as well: not enough characters of colour, the weird absence of the house-elves, the stupid treatment of the female characters (Ginny was almost a non-entity here when she was so cool in the books!), the lack of out LGBT characters, some terrible plotting and deus ex machina.
The fundamental emotions and the characters we loved so much are all there, with the addition to one new character to the canon who became an instant favourite of mine: Scorpius Malfoy. Scorpius – and his relationship with Albus – is one of the most important parts of the play and it was such a joy to see these two boys interact the way they did, wearing their hearts in their sleeves, hugging it out and just being the emotional core of the story. (I shipped them hard, yes and was a bit disappointed that the play did not go there). Anthony Boyle plays Scorpius as this geeky, adorable, emotional boy that I just wanted to hug.
Ultimately, I loved this. I adored this. I am a forever Scorpius fan now.
I am very much aware that I am one of the lucky ones. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child should not have been a play. This is a series that is beloved worldwide and it is not fair that this is a play, at the West End in London where you have to pay a lot to see both parts. It is not fair, and if this is fannish entitlement? So be it.
I am so privileged, so lucky, to be have been there and this time and to be able to afford it. Most fans are not. And I can’t help but to feel that there is a terrible unfairness about this.
I think the important thing to take away from Ana’s part and from my part to come right now is the fact that we are very, very lucky. In fact, we are privileged–because we were able to get tickets for the impossible play, because we were able to get to London in the first place due to quirks of timing and saving, and somehow, somehow the stars aligned and we were able to see this newest chapter of Harry Potter’s life unfold on stage.
As Ana says, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a play. While not all plays need to be seen on stage to be appreciated and beloved (see Hamilton for a more current example; examine A Street Car Named Desire, Long Day’s Journey Into Night, or Twelve Angry Men for more classic touchstones), plays are so powerful because they rely on not only dialogue and stage direction, but involve music, effects, sets, and most vitally, an actor’s interpretation and delivery. For this reason, I am sympathetic to the many dismissive reviews of The Cursed Child from those who only read the play–because Harry Potter has never been great at dialogue, and when one doesn’t have the theater-going experience in mind with all of the magic and wonder and powerful acting, it’s really hard to see the merit in some of the plot points during the latter portions of the story, or to appreciate the nuance and pain of its characters. (Imagine, for example, reading the screenplay of Stranger Things–what would your impression of Eleven be? Mine certainly would be lacking HUGE facets of her character, because the actor who plays the role is so damn expressive without even needing to say anything.)
To sum up: The Cursed Child as a script does the play–and Rowling’s fans–a grave disservice. I understand the anger and the WTF reactions; I feel the same anger with the messy ridiculousness of the second act of the second play, with another prophecy (from where?!), and Delphi Diggory/Lestrange/Riddle’s entire purpose in the story (she’s actually not necessary–the boys could have still made the same messes in time without her, and the ending falls apart upon itself because all Delphi/The Augury would have had to do is KILL LILY POTTER any time in the 24 hours she was in the past, and problems are all sorted). I get these complaints and I feel them sorely, too.
The Cursed Child is so much more than the loose script gathering of words and minimal stage direction. It’s so much more than Delphi’s story! It’s Harry and Albus, Draco and Scorpius, Albus and Scorpius’s story. It’s a story about fathers and their children, about the legacy–damaging and powerful–that a name can carry. It’s about parental expectation and protection, and just how messed up those expectations and “protection” orders can be. Harry, and Jamie Parker’s portrayal of Harry, is so fucking powerful in this play. Harry is trying to be a father, and the head of magical law enforcement, and trying to provide and protect his children from the horrors he had to live through. He’s also NOT a great dad, because, as he puts it, he’s “doing this without wires”–Harry has never had a father, other than Sirius or Dumbledore, and we know how THAT went. Harry loves his family very much, and Albus is a problem for him because the two characters are so very different. The rage and frustration Albus feels towards his famous, do-nothing-wrong-savior father is so palpable and powerful on stage. Harry’s frustration and desire to help his son in any way (even when that means he makes bad decisions–really bad decisions) is equally moving. This relationship, deepened by similar relationships and emotionally raw performances from Draco and Scorpius, Hermione and Rose, drive the character-heart of the play in both of its parts.
Of course, it’s really the relationship between friends Scorpius and Albus that is the truest, most beautiful and fun part of the play–and it beautifully plays homage to the core values of the Harry Potter books. Harry never fought alone, and never could win alone. He always had his friends–this is a theme reinforced throughout The Cursed Child and it BRINGS ME TO TEARS, PEOPLE.
There are so many other wonderful things about the characters and the acting and their portrayals in this play, and I can hardly be coherent about it so I will list them off in rapid fashion:
- THIS IS A TIME TURNER STORY! AAAA! When Ana and I first saw this start to unfold on stage, our reaction was to turn to each other and silently mouth/scream “HOLY SHIT IT’S A TIME TURNER STORY THEY ARE GOING TO MESS UP EVERYTHING AND HARRY WILL DIE”
- VOLDEMORT’S DAY and Hogwarts under rule of Headmistress Umbridge is terrifying and AMAZING and the perfect way to end the first perfect part of the play. I was literally on the edge of my seat, and I’m not just saying that–I haven’t felt so excited and enchanted and exhilarated by a play or movie in FOREVER.
- SNAPE IS BACK. It is so sad and beautiful.
- Hermione is a badass in every alternate timeline, and Ron is hilarious comedic relief. I love that the two of them always, somehow, find each other.
- The time turner special effects are STRAIGHT-UP MAGIC. I have no idea how they did all of the special effects they did (loads of trap doors, a sky-high budget, and/or actual magic) but it was perfection.
- The bromance between Scorpius and Albus; the sexual tension, the happiness, the unshakable core of friendship between the two.
- Scorpius becoming the hero of the play at the close of part 1 and start of part 2. Scorpius in general just being the most awesome, likable character.
- The ministry of magic teleportation scenes; any parts in Hogwarts. The sets are SO GOOD.
- Albus going to Slytherin. YESSSSSS.
- The terror of Voldemort’s return and Harry’s scar hurting. Also Harry’s nightmares are AWFUL and so sad.
- The emotional gut-punch of Harry confronting Dumbledore about all those years he spent in Privet Drive, unloved, unknowing of his past or his family. SOB.
- The one part I cried during the play: Harry listening to his family die and being powerless to stop it. Jamie Parker’s portrayal again is staggering. I couldn’t stop crying.
The Cursed Child is not a perfect play by any stretch of the imagination. The second half of the second act is rushed and ill-conceived at turns… but the emotional core of the play is so goddamn pure, that I cannot feel anything but the deepest love and joy for getting another chapter in Harry’s remarkable life, for being able to see this unfold on stage so early in the Play’s run, and for getting to watch it with my own best friend.
I loved this play. I sincerely hope it becomes three books or movies, because every Harry Potter fan in the world deserves to see what Ana and I saw, or to read the range of emotions that unfolded on stage in so much more than mere dialogue or stage direction.
If you are lucky enough to be in a position to watch the play, I urge you to do so from the bottom of my Slytherin heart. It is worth it.