We finally got to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a year after the curtain first went up. We weren’t disappointed.
It is a fabulous spectacle, and a must see for all Harry Potter fans. My daughters (12 and 10) were enthralled, and my wife and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Go and see it, but if you are a regular theatre goer be prepared, the production and the audience might not be quite what you are used to.
The material is very strong. It is tense and taut story, with a strong emotional core. It was not written solely by JK Rowling, so it is a strange piece of uber fan fiction blessed by the author and with her input, but nonetheless not quite the real thing.
It lacks a certain Potterishness in its texture, Harry and Hermione in particular have lost a little of their childhood charm, and age seems to have robbed Harry of some of his furious energy. Ron remains Ron, although the character owes a great deal the written portrayal of Arthur Weasley, and the performance in the films by Mark Williams. That is a good thing.
Of course, regular followers of this blog will know there is better fan fiction out there.
In addition to the constant Potter theme of friendship conquering adversity, there is an added focus on parent/child relationships, which was necessarily largely missing from the books, only appearing in poignant vignettes. There is nothing wrong with this story being different, or that the old characters have grown, but there is the sense of something missing. The two way dynamic of Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy lacks the richness of the Harry/ Ron/ Hermione triangle and while adding Rose Grainger-Weasley to the mix may have been an homage too far (and so well done for avoiding it), I could not shake the sense that the central pairing needed something more.
Enough of what it isn’t, it is a cracking story. The elements weave back together to form a satisfying conclusion, and the pacing is excellent throughout.
In general the standard of the acting is good, unremarkable in that positive way that means you are not aware of it. There are some notable exceptions. Scorpius Malfoy steals the show, he has the best lines and has a fantastic energy and presence on the stage. His interactions with his father Draco are superb, and those moments outshine Albus & Harry.
Harry himself was difficult to read. Was it that the bright young wizard had dissolved into a middle aged, Floydian “hanging on in quiet desperation” or was it just an unnecessarily overwrought performance?
Hermione in part 1 was a let down, breathless delivery and variable pitch, but settled to give another competently unremarkable performance in part 2.
That said the whole thing lacked some of the intensity and precision of high end productions. There was, every now and again, a whiff of pantomime, most notably if Delphi was on stage. I got the impression that if the shackles were off someone would break into song.
On reflection I don’t have a problem with that. This was not a regular, serious material, theatre going audience, and Ibsen it ain’t. If theatre is to survive it needs to become more democratic, and HP&tCC may be the kind of gateway drug needed to lure in fresh audiences. For blazers and pin drop silence we still have The Old Vic.
The visuals were stunning, the set design clever, and the scene changes with swirling robes and spinning staircases were a delight. The Dementors are awesome.
I was however reminded of an early Omid Djalili sketch, because there was quite a lot of random unnecessary dancing. The sequences were well choreographed and powerfully executed, adding to the spectacle, but they added nothing to the story. I suspect it was just a way to stop the extras smoking backstage by keeping them busy, and giving the principals time for costume changes.
The Palace Theatre is a venerable old building. I strongly advise that only those of less than average height or girth to get seats in the balcony, and certainly not anyone with a heart condition. There are a lot of stairs, there is no legroom and the seats are narrow. We had a slightly restricted view, but being tucked in a corner with no one behind we were free to stand when the action moved the front right corner of the stage.
We booked a year in advance for £15 a seat, and that is the entertainment bargain of the century. A friend paid a small fortune more to sit in the stalls and had no complaints about the price.
There are security checks on the way in, leave plenty of time. The merchandise stall is eyewateringly expensive, and has a queue to join its queue. But it is only West End price inflation, not the open wallet surgery you will get at the Harry Potter experience, so think of it as an investment.
If you are a fan, go and see it. There are no excuses. Buy a plane ticket (I have a friend who did just that), walk if you have to. If you are not a fan, but you enjoy a great, if long day out, go and see it. It is a marvellous spectacle and worth the admission. If you have not read the books, or seen the films, send me a picture of the rock you have been hiding under, but I’ll be honest, this is not the best place to start your Harry Potter journey. Come back to it once you have some of the canon material under your belt.
I’m a fan of JK Rowling as a human being, and of her work. I’ve read the books more than once. I’m in my 40s. Bite me (but go and see the play).
and the theorising that spawned the story: