*there are some minor spoilers ahead, so please tread carefully*
Many of us were incredibly sceptical when it was announced that the “eight story” in the Harry potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, was not only going to be released, but it was going to be a theatrical version of the story – the play.
There was a mixture of excitement and confusion between fans – what more was there to be told? Voldemort was dead and “all as well” according to the final line in Deathly Hallows. What’s more, the show was going to be in four acts – two shows, lasting almost five hours – what could possibly be the plot to last that long?
Is it all just a grab for money? Is it just a nostalgia-inducing affair?
Over two consecutive nights I sat and watched Cursed Child, from my restricted seat in the balcony, and my previously negative opinions about it began to melt away with every second the show ticked on.
It was incredibly nostalgia-inducing – from the house ties the Front of Staff wore, to the familiar opening scene of the Golden Trio sending their children to Hogwarts, and seeing familiar characters. The Palace Theatre is the perfect choice of location for this show, as the beautiful Gothic interior and etchings of stars and moons along the balcony make you feel as if you are sitting in the Astronomy Tower at Hogwarts. Audience members were sitting in costumes and Potter t-shirts, showing their allegiance to the boy who lived, and throughout the show they gasped and chuckled and cried at all the right moments.
Though adventure takes place and there is a new enemy, the main explorations of Jack Thorne and John Tiffany’s play are the past, consequences, and expectations. That’s what makes it such a good play: the raw emotion which comes from it which we can all relate to – with or without magic.
Performances are excellent, and all 42 actors, many multi-roleing, deserve mention. Jamie Parker’s Harry is incredibly strong, especially in moments with Ginny (Poppy Miller) and Albus (Sam Clemmett). Miller is feisty as Ginny, a favourite moment being her shouting Draco (Alex Price) down, which received a round of applause.
Clemmett portrays Albus as a child drowning in expectations. Paul Thornley (Ron) is cheeky as ever, and Noma Dumezweni as Hermione is incredibly powerful. Chipo Kureya (Myrtle), Helena Lymbery (Umbridge), and Sandy McDade (McGonagall) also make excellent turns.
Anthony Boyle, as Scorpius Malfoy, was one of the standout performances for me. Boyle plays the role with a mixture of light-hearted teenager full of warmth and nerdy awkwardness, to a boy, who, just like Albus, is weighed down with his father’s expectations, and the hurt of his mother’s passing. Boyle works very well with Clemmett, and their chemistry onstage is beautiful to watch. A particularly moving moment showing their friendship is in a sequence involving moving staircases – so close, and yet so far apart.
Though these were exceptional nuanced performances, it cannot be forgotten how much of a spectacle the show is. It is sent in the Wizarding World, after all. Writing glows up around the theatre, Dementors fly close, engulfing you in misery and despair, and smoke billows out of a students’ ears. ‘Illusions and Magic’ director Jamie Harrison cleverly gives us lots of magic, but the majority of it is not through complicated technology or special effects. Rods of lights are used for a Patronus, figures in black carry the ‘floating’ pumpkins, and (I think) secret trapdoors are used for switching actors during transformation via Polyjuice Potion. This is a wise choice, as it makes the magic seem much more alive and real. However, the scene with he Trolley Witch was incredibly underwhelming and not what I expected when reading the script.
Similarly, set designer Christine Jones chooses a bare set, which is filled with small pieces rolling in and out to indicate location – perfect considering it moves around many. This gives more room for incredible movement, bordering on dance, sequences which take place between scenes. Students introduce us to the various incarnations of Hogwarts, swishing the robes and organising themselves into precise formations which look spectacular from my seat so high up. However, the score is jarring at times, and used far too often, becoming used cinematically rather than theatrically. At times I felt characters were going to burst into songs.
Though things could definitely have been trimmed, the show is one which takes you on a journey through all kinds of emotion: nostalgia, happiness, friendship, fear, sadness, excitement, confusion, and finally, to one of love for these characters. The final scenes reduced me to tears, and watching this show, which is on stage nineteen years after Harry first came into our world, it is clear why these characters resonate with us: because we can see ourselves and our own experiences reflected through them, but with the added fantasy and magic. Seeing it onstage allows fans a deeper connection to these characters many of us have grown up with, as we are with them on this eighth journey, one which many of us have experienced in so many ways – that of facing our past in the present, and trying to manage the expectations placed upon us.
All images courtesy of the Cursed Child wesbite