Through some kind of miracle, despite being placed behind 17,000 people in the queue when tickets released online, I was lucky enough to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child during previews earlier this month.
The script for the play has just been released to the public but I’ll still be talking about the play here with very little spoilers, so it’s safe to proceed if you don’t have your copy yet. In fact you might want to, as there are a lot of questions about how well this story can work off stage.
Based around Harry’s youngest son Albus (Sam Clemmett), The Cursed Child picks up right where we last saw the trio and their children. We see the scene of Albus worrying about being placed in Slytherin play out on stage to set the mood and begin establishing Albus’ relationship with his father. Albus is the “problem child” that very quickly grows distant from his family upon finding his experience at Hogwart’s very different from Harry’s own, particularly because of his close friendship with Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle).
Harry’s other children, Lily and James, don’t have much time on stage and so fall back into seeming like carbon copies of their mother and grandfather respectively, though this does help to reinforce Albus’ isolation from the rest of his family. Ginny (Poppy Miller) too seems to have fallen into this trap of turning into her parents, as she very much takes on a Molly type role here, though the parallel seems to work much better for her.
Rose Granger-Weasley (Cherrelle Skeete) also suffers from a lack of story focus and seems to be talked about more than we actually see her on stage. There seems to be a vague attempt to imply a new trio in Albus, Scorpius, and Rose by the end of Part 2 but she is absent from any major role in this story. It’s a disappointment, especially as promotional material seemed to imply a major role for her.
Ron (Paul Thornley), like his daughter, gives up focus here and is seen mostly for comic relief, but in his case the choice seems to really work. I enjoyed his character here more than the angry jealous boy we often saw in later books, and even his relationship with Hermione didn’t grate on me like it so often did in my recent reread of the series. Perhaps this is because Hermione (Noma Dumezweni) has such a strong presence, ending up exactly where you would expect a Witch as smart as Hermione to land, as Minister for Magic.
Some fans are not going to be happy with this version of Harry (Jamie Parker) as it becomes clear very quickly that he’s not the perfect father, but to me that seems like a very realistic situation for someone with Harry’s upbringing. Life goes on after Voldemort for Harry, and vanquishing The Dark Lord didn’t solve all of his problems.
Draco (Alex Price), once again the other side of the coin to Harry, also has a strained relationship with his son, and is possibly the most interesting of our older characters to see at this point in his life. No longer a Death Eater but never quite a good person either, Draco has a very hard time relating to a son that is more like Hermione Granger or Luna Lovegood than he is a Malfoy.
The relationship between Albus and Scorpius is very much the heart of this play and in that regard the themes of the original series stand strong. This story is still about friendship and love in many forms and as cheesy as it can sometimes sound it’s nice to see that kind of hope still present. That’s why it comes as quiet a disappointment that the story doesn’t let itself go where it seemed to naturally begin to wander, into a romance between the two boys, and instead attempts to shoehorn in a crush or two on girls between all the longing.
Outside of our main cast we see quite a few other returning characters, some of which might surprise fans as they’re dead… but then that’s never stopped anyone in the Wizarding World before. In fact the play seems tailor made to allow these cameos of fan favourite characters, and that’s possibly why the plot suffers.
Yes, as stunning and beautiful as this play can be it’s ultimately the overall plot that lets it down.
Having seen more than my fair share of musicals and plays on the West End I can say without a doubt I have never seen anything that looks as magical as The Cursed Child. My fear from the moment the play was announced was the idea of a watered down version of all the fantastical spells and potions not restricted by the imagination, but I can freely say now that if there’s an iconic spell, potion, or even creature you’re thinking of it’s more than likely shown.
Polyjuice Potion, The Patronus Charm, Dementors, Centaurs, all of these are present here. I will spend the rest of the year getting distracted at random parts of the day wondering how they managed to suck three people through the change slot of a pay phone.
The experience of seeing this kind of magic so palpably on stage is something every fan with a chance should go see, regardless of any problems the plot might have. I can’t quite reconcile this story with that of the books, I don’t think I’ll ever see it as truly canon because of the ways in which it would change my perception of a series I already love if I did, but despite that it still made me cry. The plot has been compared to fanfiction by some, and I can’t say I disagree, but I would go see the show again tomorrow if I was given the chance.
The play sits in this strange limbo where I feel the finer details will be lost on any casual fan of the series, while also thrilling and bothering the dedicated Hogwarts students. It’s no surprise that the appearance of characters and ideas we’ve seen before will bring about a feeling of excitement in people that love this fantasy world so dearly, but they might also feel just slightly off from the series you know. These differences, and the way the play interacts with the existing story in ways that change what we know, keep it from feeling like it belongs in the larger narrative but the experience itself will likely stop you from caring.
These problems with the plot are exactly the reason I’m not sure the script for the play should have been released. I understand why it has been, and that a lot of fans would feel left out if it weren’t, but I expect a lot of you to be very disappointed if that’s the way you experience this story. The story was written to be a play, not the 8th book of the series, and unfortunately it’s going to suffer because of it.
If you ever get the chance please grab it and go see this stunningly produced play, because unfortunately (for once) the magic won’t be present on the page.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently playing at the Palace Theatre London, and no doubt will be for a very long time. The script is out now (Happy Birthday Harry!).