If anybody tells you “there’s no such thing as magic!” then they’ve not seen Harry Potter and the Cursed Child yet. Five years since the award-winning play debuted at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End, it’s still going strong as one of the most successful plays of all time. Beside the fact it’s part of the best-selling book series of all time and part of one of the biggest film franchises, it’s easy to see why.
I read the script for the play back when it was first published but have only just managed to watch it, so although I knew the premise and much of what happens, there were still some gaps in my memory. This was good in a way so that much of the suspense was still there and it almost felt completely new and fresh after not reading it for so long. Plus as much as you can try and use your imagination when reading, there is nothing like seeing it interpreted live on stage.
The two part, four act play is set between nineteen and twenty-two years after the end of Deathly Hallows, beginning with the last scene/chapter of the final film/book as Harry Potter’s youngest son, Albus Severus, sets off to Hogwarts for his first year. It revolves around the father-son trials and tribulations and dynamics the two go through as young “Al” tries to navigate his way through school after being sorted into Slytherin House, befriending Draco Malfoy’s geeky son Scorpius and seemingly failing to live up to his famous father’s legacy and the surname he’s inherited.
Meanwhile, Harry is concerned about his scar hurting again and what it could mean, feeling danger in the form of the Dark Lord is coming back again. There are rumours that Scorpius is actually the son of Voldemort because his parents allegedly illegally used a forbidden Time-Turner to have him conceived by said Dark Lord, but are they true? Well, someone is his secret child and the shocking truths are revealed later in the story as it takes several twists and turns throughout.
The play obviously involves a lot of time travel, which always makes for some of the most dramatic adventures and dreadful consequences (think Back to the Future, Avengers: Endgame), as well as some confusion. For all the Potterheads (which should be each one of 1400 people in the audience at every show) there’s nostalgia in buckets as iconic scenes are relived and retold from different perspectives and angles. Even if some of the script is a little convoluted in an attempt to simply keep the story and life of Harry Potter and his family and friends going, at least the nostalgia and familiarity of much of it certainly keeps the magic of the Wizarding World alive.
The cast of The Cursed Child should really be commended, for many of them have stepped into the roles of some of the most legendary characters and done so having clearly studied the voices (sometimes complete with the inflections, delivery and pitch), mannerisms and even the way some of them stand and walk. Harry, Ron, Dumbledore, Snape, Umbridge and Myrtle were some of the best impressions and interpretations that did the best justice to the characters we know and love (or love to hate in Umbridge’s case).
The two young actors portraying Albus (Dominic Short) and Scorpius (Luke Sumner) were the most impressive, borrowing speech, behaviour and actions from their fathers whilst embodying the separate personalities that make them different to them as well as the similar traits they share which make them inseparable. And as over the top dramatic, hyperactive, nerdy (Malfoy) and self-pitying (Potter) as they may be, their mindsets and motives are still understandable and their predicaments easy to sympathise with. Their chemistry as best friends is solid and believable as the recurring theme of friendship and love is constantly referenced and one of the defining aspects that has kept the story of Harry Potter together and continues to with this extension. What was also impressive was the fact that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the two boys’ professional theatre debut roles so you can only imagine what jobs at the Ministry of Theatre this will open up for them in the future.
The adult roles are, like the adults in the films, fulfilled by mostly seasoned West End actors. Perhaps the most well know of them all is actress and singer Michelle Gayle as Hermione. Now it has been widely accepted by many as the norm for Hermione being portrayed as Black in the play (and as brilliant as this representation is, it must be reiterated that J.K. Rowling did not originally write her as a POC despite what she has argued), you see past the character’s skin colour and see the classic Hermione fans of the original series loved – clever, diplomatic, sensible, calm… and bossy.
Jamie Ballard as Harry Potter and Thomas Aldridge as Ron Weasley round up the famous trio. The former takes on the weight of being The Boy Who Lived and adeptly plays the grown up wizard who is torn between putting his past behind him and facing it again as well as juggling the mental torment he has suffered all his life and the troubles he has trying to be a father to Albus. The latter portrays the carefree, comic relief of Ron to a tee and is probably the least different of all the original main characters. They are joined by Susie Trayling as Ginny who shows better acting chops than her wooden film counterpart Bonnie Wright and James Howard as Draco who appears to have morphed into his father Lucius.
Above all, the staging of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is definitely one of the best I have ever seen in the theatre. From the cloak-swishing choreography of the wand battles, Death Eater “dance” at the start of Part Two, and the simple changing of scenery and sets, to bringing the magic to life on stage through trap door trickery, ropes and mechanised objects, audiences are kept in awe throughout. There is also the use of “black arts” – using actors dressed all in black against a black backdrop so they can’t be seen on stage to recreate different movements of some characters and manipulate objects in particular scenes. One of the most mesmerising scenes was the depiction of being underwater for the Triwizard Tournament. Was it an optical projection or were the actors behind the screen “swimming”? However they did it it was nothing short of enchanting.
So from the brilliant predominantly special visual effects used in the films to now using mainly traditional stage show illusions, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child leads the way in creative and innovative means to cast its magic in a theatrical setting.
The only real slightly negative point I would make about the play is its unconvincing villain. If you’ve not read the script before watching it you’ll probably be more surprised by who it is – but whether you have or not won’t stop you from probably being underwhelmed by their motives and actions. The villain takes on traits of the original series’ two greatest villains – the psychopathic Bellatrix Lestrange and of course Lord Voldemort – but ultimately fails as being as half as terrifying as one of them with their remaining smidge of humanity we catch a glimpse of towards the end. They come across as more a misguided, crazy and desperately unloved teenager rather than a mixture of the highest level of pure evil and darkness reincarnated. This is not the fault of the actor who plays them but rather the combined writing efforts of J.K. Rowling alongside Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, and it’s no wonder some fans felt the story was unnecessary or at least lacking the originality of the series’ canon.
And talking of “Voldemort”, what was a little confusing was the way the Dark Lord’s name was pronounced. According to J.K. Rowling herself, the “t” is silent in his name, a la French. This was revealed to be a “correct” theory in 2015 and in the audiobooks it is pronounced this way. However, how or why actors in the films always pronounced the “t” when she was obviously consulted throughout and served as a producer on the last two films is both strange and silly. But while many of us have been saying his name wrong for years, most of us will surely agree it still sounds wrong minus the “t”.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an absolute must-see for any Potterhead – whether you are ready to lap up anything Harry Potter-related that J.K. Rowling throws out into the world, cautious of what she continues to churn out or just on the fence. The play will reignite fading sparks or keep the love of Harry Potter and magic alive, even if it means sitting down for more than five hours. This may seem like a dreadfully long time but I guarantee even young children will be pretty much spellbound from start to finish.
Apparently it will be restaged into a single performance on Broadway, but how this will be done without some serious scene and script cutting is yet unknown. While some scenes such as the rushing through of Albus’ first three years at Hogwarts could easily be taken out, I think removing much more of the play to condense it will prove hard and could rob it of the charm and wonderment it provides as a whole. And whether or not it deserves or needs a film version with the original actors is another debatable question. I personally think it doesn’t and it should be kept as a theatrical production but would imagine it’s something that could easily come to fruition in the future and will surely be embraced by fans all over.