In August of 2016 I reviewed the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script, back when it was first published. You can read my review here but, to summarize, I gave the script a mediocre review. In June of this year I was lucky enough to be offered tickets to the play and after two years of walking passed the theatre doors I was finally able to go inside and watch the performance.
Here is my review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
(Warning, there are spoilers for the Harry Potter series throughout. If you haven’t read the books or seen the films, you have been warned)
I thoroughly enjoyed the play, more than I thought I would. As I’ve said in my Shakespeare reviews it’s one thing to read a script but quite another to watch it being performed. Although I enjoyed the play I will admit that there are some problems with it.
Let’s start with the positives. The audience are re-introduced to some of the original Harry Potter characters including Harry, Ron and Hermione and learn more about their life post-Hogwarts. Harry is an Auror (a dark wizard catcher, a magical policeman) Ron help runs his brother’s joke shop and Hermione is the new Minister of Magic, the equivalent of being the British Prime Minister. We also meet some of our old favourite characters such as Professor McGonagall (now the Headmistress of Hogwarts) and Ginny (Harry’s wife). We start to connect to the new generation of heroes such as Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (the sons of Harry and Draco respectively). Although the plot is controversial among the fan base (more on that later) there were some lovely details that die hard Harry Potter fans would catch onto. The most striking detail for me was that fact that, as the play takes place in the book universe and not the film universe, Voldemort is pronounced Voldermor as the t is silent, a mistake that appeared in the films. The play also addresses several fan theories around the Harry Potter Universe such as “what would have happened in Harry had be placed into Slytherin house?” and “are all students in Slytherin house really evil?” which as a long-time fan of the series I appreciate.
The play also does a good job at contrasting Harry’s experience at Hogwarts to Albus’. It’s easy to reach the assumption that every student has an adventure at Hogwarts as we follow Harry and his friend’s journey through the books. In their first year they defeated a mountain troll and saved the Philosopher’s Stone (or if you’re American the Sorcerer’s Stone). In their second year they solved the mystery of the Chamber of Secrets. In their third year, they revealed the truth of Sirius Black. This impression is enforced by several spin off media such as the app Hogwart’s Mystery and the Quidditch World Cups games. When Albus goes to school he has a normal Hogwarts experience. He attends his classes, he watches Quidditch games and he complete his exams. As Albus has been brought up in the shadow of his father’s stories, he’s expecting more from the school and coupled with the fact that he struggles to perform basic magic, he feels isolated and that he is a disappointment to his family. He bonds with Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy who is burdened with the rumour that he is secretly Voldemort’s child. From an outsider’s perspective we know it to be ridiculous but it is the sort of story schoolchildren would believe. From a plot writing and character development point of view both characters are excellent.
Obviously for a West End Production the acting was stella. I didn’t expect anything less. At one point in the performance the actor portraying Scorpius broke his microphone and he just powered through, you wouldn’t have noticed if the microphone hadn’t emitted feedback. The best part of the show for me was the special effects. During the wizard duels the stage is divided into half with men camouflaged in the shadows performing the spells. For example, when Draco Malfoy casts Levicorpus at Harry Potter, the actor is put in a harness and hoist up in the air for a few moments. When a character wants to enter the Ministry of Magic via the magic phone box, the actors put collapsible dummies on stage and use the phone box to suck the robes off them, giving the impression they have vanished.
The main problem with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the plot. One of the secrets to Harry Potter’s worldwide success is that the books are Boarding School Mysteries dressed as Fantasy books. Cursed Child is a time travel story disguised as a Harry Potter story. The main plot of the Cursed Child revolves around Albus’ plan to use a time turner to go back to Harry’s forth year and humiliate Cedric Diggory resulting in Cedric not being killed by Voldermort and… showing Harry that Albus could do something he couldn’t? The plan is farfetched but it is schemed by two fourteen-year-old boys who wouldn’t be expected to think things through. Where I take issue is with the parallel dimensions the characters visit and the use of time travel. In the Harry Potter universe time travel feels out of place and should be used scarcely. J K Rowling received flak for this after the release of book three and in book five destroyed all the time turners to solve the plot hole. With the re-introduction of time travel the impact of the original books are lost and the quality of the story telling dips from J K Rowling’s usual masterful levels to that of poorly written fan fiction.
My next issue is with the characters portrayed in the show. I’m satisfied with the treatment given to Albus and Scorpius but I believe that everybody else is poorly written. The original trio are almost only used to advance to plot with board meetings and fail to create an impact on the plot that has any significance. I appreciate that the play is meant to focus on the next generation but benching Harry Potter is a huge mistake, his name is in the title of the play, it is his story fans are expecting. I’d also question why some original characters are shoehorned into the play and others are mysteriously absent. It makes sense for us to see Professor McGonagall but why do characters such as Bane and Moaning Myrtle play a role in the story? Why not focus on more important characters like Neville, Luna or Mr and Mrs Weasley? Perhaps the biggest example of this is the play treating Cedric as a important character when he wasn’t even mentioned in the first two novels. Some of the other children of Harry and Ginny and Ron and Hermione are underwritten and one child doesn’t even have any lines! From the top of my head, I can’t even think of their names. Other characters begin to act out of character only to advance the plot. For example, Lord Voldermort wouldn’t have a love child with Bellatrix Lestrange, he has only ever treated Bellatrix as one of his followers, perhaps a very loyal follower and one of the few female Deatheaters but there is no evidence he has ever been attracted to her. I also find it doubtful that Professor McGonagall would be bullied by Harry to spy on her own students. There is also some clear fan service throughout the play with the inclusion of Snape, Umbridge and Dumbledore.
Although I did praise the acting earlier on I would like to mention one thing. There was a scene near the end of the play where Hagrid was exploring the ruins of James, Lilly’s and Harry’s house at Godrick’s Hollow and finds baby Harry in the wreckage. Hagrid goes into a monologue about how much he loved James and Lilly and how kind and pure they were… while baby Harry is still in the burning rubble!
Despite my rant above, I do believe the play is worth seeing, if purely for the special effects. If you are a die-hard Harry Potter fan than this play is a must however I think it would be confusing for casual fans of the series. I don’t think Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a cash grab as many critics claim. It is well within J K Rowling’s right to continue the Harry Potter story as she sees fit as she is the author. She has said that most of the money made by the show goes to her charity, Lumos and it was reported that at one point she was richer than the Queen. I highly doubt Rowling needs the money. I think the play would have received a warmer reception if it wasn’t part of the cannon Harry Potter Universe. (I did a whole article about cannon ages ago but to briefly recap, cannon means an established order of events. For example, the Harry Potter book canon and the Harry Potter film canon are two different order of events telling the same story.) I think that if the play was a stand-alone, it would have received a warmer reception.
I’ll award Harry Potter and the Cursed Child seven wands out of ten.
Have you seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or read the script? What do you think?
I look forward to hearing your thoughts, as always and I’ll see you next time.