Harry Potter & The Cursed Child: Theatre Review

Back in October last year, I waited in a queue of thousands to book tickets for Harry Potter and The Cursed Child for myself, my partner, and a few friends. And so, on Saturday 6th August, we headed down to the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue to watch the magical show.

*Spoiler Warning*

This review will discuss the play in some depth, so if you haven’t seen it, or haven’t read the script that came out on 31st July, read no further. I will accept no responsibility for people being spoiled by this review.

Harry Potter and The Cursed Child is being touted as the eighth story, nineteen years later. From the official website:

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a new play by Jack Thorne. It is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage.

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.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one play presented in two Parts, which are intended to be seen in order on the same day (matinee and evening) or on two consecutive evenings.

If you’ve been struggling to get tickets, you’ll know that this play is sold out until December 2017. Crazy, right? But, when you think about it, it’s really no surprise that it’s sold out. Firstly, it’s Harry Potter, which is still ridiculously popular, and secondly, everyone involved in bringing the play to stage clearly knows what they’re doing. HARRY POTTER is in giant letters at the entrance to the Palace Theatre, and there’s a mould of what one assumes is Harry’s son inside what looks like a Snitch.

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We were worried about not being able to find it. Our worries were clearly in vain.

After queuing up in a surprisingly long yet fast-moving line, we entered the theatre, tickets in hand, being used as fans on the overly warm summer afternoon. Then came what felt like a thousand steps up to where we could enter the theatre proper, and find our seats.

Way back when I booked the tickets, money wasn’t exactly growing on trees, so I booked some of the cheapest tickets available – £15 per part, which I thought was reasonable and for such a highly-anticipated event. Oh do I wish I’d spent more on the tickets! Our seats were really uncomfortable, with not a lot of room for activities. Squished up, feet on the metal pole in front of us (as our feet didn’t touch the floor), fighting for an armrest and battling altitude sickness, we were ready for Part One to begin.

The play opens with the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows – Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and all of their respective children, heading to Platform 9 3/4 for the start of another school year. Albus Severus, Harry’s middle child, is concerned about being put into Slytherin by the Sorting Hat. Harry comforts him by explaining that not all Slytherin’s are bad, and that Albus does have a choice in the matter. Albus is soon dragged onto the train by Rose Granger-Weasley, Ron and Hermione’s daughter, where they meet Scorpius Malfoy, Draco’s son. Albus and Scorpius become fast friends, and when they arrive at Hogwarts, Albus is indeed sorted into Slytherin.

At first, The Cursed Child seems to be about Albus, the famous Harry Potter’s forgotten son, or Scorpius, who is rumoured to really be Voldemort’s son. Albus and Scorpius go on an immense journey, with the help of a time turner and Delphi Diggory, Cedric’s cousin, to bring Cedric back from the dead – or, rather, stop him from dying in the first place – and to erase what seems like Harry’s biggest regret. Albus seems to believe that if he succeeds, not only will his father no longer be haunted by Cedric’s ghost, but he will have made a name for himself, by giving Cedric back to his grieving father. As we could all probably guess, things were never going to work out that way.

It soon becomes clear that the message behind all of the drama is that it doesn’t matter who your parents are, or what they’ve done – you are your own person, and you can control your future. But when it is revealed that Delphi is in fact Voldemort’s daughter, and she intends to fulfil the prophecy of bringing the Dark Lord back, everything kind of came crashing down, for me. The daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, Delphi was born not long before the Battle for Hogwarts at Malfoy Manor, and was told of her destiny by Bellatrix’s husband after his escape or release from Azkaban.

As soon as Delphi revealed herself as Voldemort’s daughter, we all knew her mother would be Bellatrix, the only person Voldemort felt a flicker of emotion for. I don’t have a problem with that entire storyline, but the alternate realities in which Albus and Scorpius find themselves were irritating in more ways than one. Firstly, Hermione was not portrayed in a way which many of us who value strong female characters are happy with. In the first alternate reality, Ron is married to someone else, and Hermione is not only the Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher, but she’s also nastier than even Snape. This huge change in Hermione’s life choices simply because she is without Ron is entirely unbelievable. In the real world, she is Minister for Magic, smart and brave and, well, Hermione. But the alternate reality suggests that without Ron, she turns into a bitter, cruel woman, and this is just unacceptable to me.

In the second alternate reality, Harry was killed at the Battle for Hogwarts, and Voldemort has taken over the magical world. In this, Draco is the head of magical law enforcement, and the spitting image of his father, Lucius. Again, I take issue with this portrayal – while defying Voldemort would no doubt have been difficult, Draco’s entire arc through The Deathly Hallows proved that earlier theme, that we are not our parents. We are in control of our own destiny, and, to paraphrase J.K. Rowling herself, it is not our abilities that show us who we truly are, it is our choices. I believe Draco would have chosen a different path.

I’ve seen a lot of angry reactions to The Cursed Child, largely from those who have just read the script. The story isn’t the best, in my opinion, and some of our much-loved characters have been treated rather badly, but the experience of the show truly is a magical one. The actors were all sublime, the props gorgeous, the effects spellbinding. Even if this story doesn’t impress you, experiencing it at the Palace Theatre (or wherever it moves to in the future) certainly will.

J.K. Rowling is not my favourite person in the world. I believe she does a lot of things for attention, and to pander to the masses. The whole “I didn’t write Hermione as white!” bullshit was, well, bullshit. Instead of calling anyone who questioned black Hermione a racist, why not examine your own racism? The fact that almost every main character within the Harry Potter universe was white, and so all of the actors in the films were also white? Instead of calling other people bigots when they questioned Dumbledore’s sexuality, why not actually embrace an LGBT character and/or storyline? The Cursed Child presented the perfect opportunity to do so, but Rowling once again shied away from it. And what about characters with disabilities? I know it’s the wizarding world, but everyone needs to feel represented in literature and pop culture as a whole, so what about those of us who don’t fit the norm? Instead of switching to a pseudonym when you did actually take risks and write about more real life issues in The Casual Vacancy, and it flopped, why not take it on the chin and carry on? 

In short, I’m not a huge fan of J.K. Rowling as a person, but I do tend to enjoy everything she writes (yes, even The Casual Vacancy). The Cursed Child isn’t perfect, and I think it’s unreasonable to expect it to be, but such is the way with such massive franchises. However, I am one of those who feels that Rowling should have released the story as a novel rather than a script, as, to really get the full effect of The Cursed Child, you have to go and see it. Even if it takes a few years. Even if it just comes to your local cinema. To fully appreciate the magic, it has to be seen. A script was just never going to cut it.

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