Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Directed by John Tiffany.
Starring Jamie Parker, Paul Thornley, Noma Dumezweni, Poppy Miller, Alex Price, Sam Clemmett, Anthony Boyle and Esther Smith.
J. K. Rowling’s legendary boy wizard, Harry Potter, returns for an all new adventure…
As someone not at all well versed in the world of Harry Potter, this was a theatrical experience that frankly blew me away. I’ve not read the books (yet) but I have seen the films and aside from a couple of exceptions, they all seemed to roll into one another as adept but fairly forgettable fantasy adaptations of J. K. Rowling’s titanically successful source material. Consequently, upon scoring tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, more for my partner than for me, my expectations were steady; as someone who has seen a fair bit of theatre in my days, quite often in London’s West End, my thoughts would be that we’d get an impressive array of visuals and an enjoyable story. That’s it. No hype or hyperbole.
Boy then, were my expectations met and exceeded, to the point this genuinely could well be the most enjoyable experience I’ve ever had in a theatrical setting. Cursed Child is a phenomenon, a revelation, an emotional and truly spectacular theatrical treat which is deserving of the exceptional reviews and bookings stretching over a year. The biggest praise I can afford it? It’s made me vastly more interested in Harry Potter and his world.
Let’s get down to brass tacks… and this is where I break it to you: I can’t tell you much. Not just because of a certain moral code of avoiding spoilers, but simply because the experience will reward you in no small measure going in cold. One major piece of advice though, and this is important: don’t read the recently published script first. Trust me. You need to see this blind, or at least without those key beats, and importantly you need to remember plays are plays for a reason – they’re meant to be performed. Shakespeare on the page is fine but it only truly comes alive when actors incarnate it, and while by no means does Jack Thorne’s script here–from a joint story with Rowling & John Tiffany–equal the Bard, it’s a fantastic piece of writing which brings Harry and his world back to life with aplomb – with depth, with feeling, with new revelations and, crucially, with laughs. You have no idea how funny Cursed Child is, to the point Thorne’s wit, brought to life by a terrific ensemble cast, is stronger than many comedies you’ll see on TV or at the movies. The words are a joy and the actors performing them even more so.
Much was of course made of the most startling piece of casting for Cursed Child – that of Noma Dumezweni, a black actress, taking on the role of an older Hermione Grainger, but she’s one of the many reasons to go and see this play. Her performance excellently brings Hermione into the future, organically ageing her while retaining plenty of the character beats Rowling wrote for her, or Emma Watson performed in the movies which made her name. Dumezweni isn’t even the standout; Jamie Parker makes a fine Harry, middle-aged, more confident and self-assured, though nevertheless struggling with very different human issues than he did as a young boy; Paul Thornley is a better Ron Weasley than Rupert Grint, hands down, stealing scenes all over the place with some great one liners and comic beats; Poppy Miller is a remarkable likeness for Bonnie Wright as Ginny Potter, and plays the role with a real sense of grace and stillness in opposition to Harry especially. As for the rest of the cast, well… it’s important not to give too much away. You probably already know these characters are older, so you can draw some conclusions possibly about the next generation of Potter’s & Weasley’s, but one must singularly point out the performances of Sam Clemmett & Anthony Boyle in roles it would be unfair to go into, but they have a skillful balance of awkward comedy & angst that belies their years.
With a fine script and a great cast, performing at the top of their game, it’s left to the production to step up to the task, and by Quidditch they deliver on every level. The set at the Palace Theatre took a long time to complete and it’s a marvel; able to reflect the legendary Hogwarts in majesty, with all manner of set changes remarkably built in to change locations to all manner of settings quickly, it’s a majestic set – and one which doesn’t completely remain on the stage, as becomes clear. The effects work involved is as magical as the world of Harry Potter itself, riven with clever illusions which draw you into the world, complemented by some well choreographed moments of interpretive dance which often act as ways to change scenes or introduce acts – plus the use of wire work is quite extraordinary, especially in how one particular terrifying Rowling creation from the books are utilised.
In terms of the effects though, one in particular is so clever in how it’s staged, I genuinely couldn’t quite reconcile how they could make the human eye see it without the benefit of CGI on film. It’s a stunning feast for the eyes in which every pound thrown at this production has been spent repeatedly showering you with incredible scenes and spectacle, often almost reaching the effects heights of what Hollywood delivered in the movie adaptations. With a cast arguably better than those screen actors in these roles, the play often at times exceeds those cinematic pieces.
You’ll do very very well to get tickets now for Harry Potter & the Cursed Child, because it’s been such an extraordinary runaway success that it’s booked up basically throughout this year and next, but if you are lucky enough to see J.K. Rowling’s natural evolution of the universe she created, you will not be disappointed. If you’re a Potter nerd, I hear tell there may be story problems or creative choices made that rankle, but it would be hard to experience this magnificent theatrical show and not forgive it any lapses in narrative, which admittedly given the kind of story Rowling & Thorne choose to tell, are undoubtedly there. Chances are you’ll get swept away by the genuine spectacle of the whole experience.
For Potter nerds, this is simply essential. For everyone else, if you can break the bank & get a ticket, you may just find yourself keen to explore more about the life of ‘the boy who lived’ than you ever imagined. Expelliarmus any doubts – this is pure magic.
Flickering Myth Rating – ★ ★ ★ ★ ★