Authors guide to review: Imagine this is written by someone who loves Harry Potter (the films, and the especially books) in the same way most of you think about Star Wars, or Dee thinks about the 70’s, Kung Fu, maidens and/or nuns with large bosoms in horror films, and dry dry irony. I’m going to assume you all know the Harry Potter films and books.
I love the Harry Potter stories. I nearly didn’t. On the release of book 4 (Goblet of Fire) I too joined in the world laughing at all the sad nerds raving over this new kids book. Queueing up over night to buy a book? Pfft, sad fuckers. Then a woman from work browbeat me into reading them, and lo and befucking hold, I loved them. Loved how they grew book by book as she grew in confidence writing them. Loved that they actually were quite dark in places, and didn’t take the piss out of the kids. And from book 5 onwards, I took the day off work on the day it came out, and stayed at home reading them in one day (with loads of coffee and joints to keep me going). Happy times. The films are pretty great too, in their own way. They could never do the complexities of the books justice, but they cast them really well, had a great visual and music style, and even though loads was cut, did their best to do the books justice. So it was only a matter of time, seeing as I live in London that I was going to stump up some fairly serious cash and go see this damn show. I paid a few hundred pounds for my ticket to both parts but I did come across some tickets for sale for £4000 for one pair of tickets to the show! FFS
So on with the show. And it is a show, not a film or TV- series. It has it’s own flow and style unlike those other two mediums. I’m lucky, I grew up in a theatre family. Amateur local shows in my home town, but that also meant my Mum took me to see all the big shows when we could go. Les Mis, Miss Siagon, Phantom, Cats, Starlight Express. I grew up watching complex stage shows, all with some of the most killer sets and visuals going. Les Mis (in 1990) had a 50 foot barricade that was in two halves in the wings, then came on on rails, tilted 90 degrees and slotted together on a circular spinning stage to create Les Mis most defining set. Miss Saigon had a whole Huey gunship helicopter drop from the ceiling, complete with spinning rotors (a clever strobe effect) at it’s most impressive moment, and Phantom of the Opera (a show about illusion) was helped to be created by the some of the greatest stage magicians of the age, so speaking mirrors and floating candles, and a huge chandelier that drops and smashes onto the stage were all easy fodder for it. Harry Potter takes all of this and 25 years later it’s like an Nokia phone user finding an iPhone 7. Every fucking stage trick under the sun is used here, but augmented with the best modern projection and light technology. Spinning stages, trap doors, and good old fashioned men in black body stockings lifting people off the ground are mixed with 3D projection technology, lasers, and wire work. There’s more bloody wire work in this than in the whole of Peter Pan.
But the whole thing would fail if there wasn’t a decent story to hang it on. And here Cursed Child, in my opinion, succeeds perfectly. It’s pure JK Rowling lore, and we all fucking loved it! It’s all about time and time turners (those wonderful little deus ex machinas she invented in Prisoner of Azkaban). The whole tale is Back To The Future (and its sequels) as you will see, and that dear reader, is never a bad thing.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child starts exactly where the final film and book end. In the book the chapter is called “19 Year Later”, where we flash forward 19 years to see Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione all grown up and sending their own kids off to Hogwarts for the first time. We catch the famous line from the books and film from young Albus to his Dad “But what if the Sorting Hat puts me in Slytherin?” and Harry saying “Albus Severus, you were named after two headmasters of Hogwarts, and one was the bravest man I ever knew.”
Albus and Rose (Ron & Hermione’s precocious and gobby child) try and find empty seats on the train. They find a carriage with only one blond haired child in it, Scorpius Malfoy. Rose says they must leave because it’s a Malfoy, and because of the rumours. What rumours says Albus? That my parents couldn’t have children, and that I am the child of Lord Voldemort, says Scorpius. Albus won’t go as Scorpius has offered him some sweets. Rose goes off in a huff, and a new pair of best friends get to know each other.
Albus and Scorpius are nothing like their fathers. Popular or famous/infamous. They are both the sons of very famous people and living in their shadows. Scorpius has the added rumour of his parentage hanging over him too. The Sorting Hat actually does put Albus into Slytherin, which has the gossips really going for Albus “He’s nothing like his father at all” which only alienates him further to him schoolmates, his parents, and everyone who thinks he should be something that he is not. What I love about this story is that Albus and Scorpius are nerds. Unpopular, friendless, non sporty, and universally unliked at school. They just have each other, and Scorpius is nothing like his father. Kind, nerdy, and world weary from the family he was brought up into. This sets up a different dynamic to the high jinks of their fathers’ school days.
In a very short time we are in the forth year at school. Albus relationship with his father has grown much worse. He’s a proper sulky teenager, and one shouting match with Harry, Ablus declares “I wish you weren’t my father”, to which Harry replies “And sometimes I wish you weren’t my son”. And the stage is set. Harry is also visited by the father of Cedric Diggory, the boy killed by Voldemort in Goblet of Fire. “Kill the spare” says Voldemort, and this line has haunted his father all these years. Amos Diggory has heard that the Ministry of Magic has found a new time turner. Amos demands Harry go back in time and rescue his son so that he is no longer “the spare”. Harry is guilt stricken by this but will not try to do it. Albus over hears this conversation sitting on the stairs. He also meets Amos’ carer and niece Delphi as well, who explains the old mans mental state, and Albus now has an idea how he can make his father a better man (if he does not have the guilt of Cedrics death on his hands maybe he will kinder and more understanding to Albus). He convinces Scorpius this is their chance to make a mark themselves, have their own adventure, and bring Cedric back to his father). They jump off a moving Hogwarts Express and head off to find Amos Diggery in his old peoples home and tell them they are going to rescue his son. They rope in Delphi, and the three of them work out a plan to steal the new Time Turner from the Minister of Magics office, go back in time to when they know Cedric will be, and that is the Tri Wizard Tournament from Book 4 (The Goblet of Fire). This creates some excellent scenes as the boys try to stop Cedric doing well in the tournament so he isn’t joint winner with Harry, whilst also trying to avoid their teenage parents, and not screw up the timeline too much. I suspect you know how this goes.
The timeline changes and changes, until they end up creating the darkest timeline by mistake. Harry is dead. Voldemort won, and Professor Umbridge is headmistress. Scorpius finds to his horror he is no longer an unpopular nerd, but dark wizarding royalty. The Scorpion King, who seems to enjoy Muggle and Mudblood torture. Time to try and put everything back as it was…. if they haven’t completely screwed up the timeline for good.
The story is pure JK Rowling story porn as it flits from Hogwarts in the present (future) and revisit it as we have known it before in Goblet of Fire. Dumbledore, Snape, Hagrid, McGonnagal, and even Moaning Myrtle (and a surprisingly sexy one at that!) all turn up. “I’ve always been partial to Potters” she purrs “And quite fond of Malfoys too” as she sprawls and spins across the pipes of the girls bathroom like a gymnast on the bars.
The adult Harry, Hermione, and Ron all also have great roles as adults, as they are forced to confront how their actions as children have shaped the future and their own relationships with their children. Draco Malfoy also has an excellent role as he confronts his past and his relationship with his son. Some of the best scenes are between Draco and Harry. Rowling has gone a long way to show the regret Draco felt after the actions of the Wizarding War, which she hinted at in book 6 and book 7. There is a hilarious duel between Draco and Harry, and they spin, bounce, and do Matrix bullet time dives to get away from each other spells. I tried to see how they were doing it, but for the life of me I couldn’t tell. I’d suddenly think it was wire work, then suddenly one would spin around like a wheel (I’m sure a man in black stocking was holding him). Then when I was sure it was the Men In Black doing it, one of them shoots 20 foot into the air, obviously on a wire. As I said, the staging is spectacular. In the darkest timeline we have wonderful 20 foot Dementors swooping through the auditorium and pouncing on people on stage, sucking out their souls, and lifting them up into the air. Amazing stuff. Another fantastic stage gag is Albus, Scorpius, and Delphi taking Polyjuice potion, the drink that will turn them into another person. They twitch and jerk as they drink the potion until Harry, Ron, and Hermione are now stood on stage in front of us. How the bloody hell they did that I will never know. Clever lighting, a trap door, and those long wizard robes undoubtedly.
But ultimately it is a story and children and their parents. Love and loss. The great themes that have always run through the Harry Potter books. And the audience lapped it up. They ooo’d and ahhh’d in all the right places. And when the revelation of the Cursed Child’s family is made at the end, such a gasp came from the crowd. The show ends in a pretty emotional way, and there was open crying everywhere, before they got a standing ovation and four curtain calls. The acting is excellent across the board, adults and kids alike. Adult Harry gives a strong and at times, heartrendering performance. And Anthony Boyle as Scorpius nearly runs away with every scene he is in, giving a slightly oddball turn while never losing the heart and sadness of his character. The boys evolving friendship between two misfits was also beautifully handled, as each boy tries to out-crap childhood each other with their stories on their train journeys together. I’ll leave the story there. I was given a badge with a hashtag on it saying I couldn’t say any more anyway.
It was pure magic from start to finish. Lines from the play book say things like This scene is about magic. The changes are rapid as we leap between worlds and This is chaos. This is Magic. This is St Oswalds Home for Old Witches and Wizards and it is as wonderful as you might hope go no way to showing the gloriousness of what was going on stage at those moments. I could barely describe it to you if I tried. But ultimately it is the story of two lonely, unpopular, and nerdy boys trying to find a way out from the shadows of their surnames. At one point Harry says to the portrait of Dumbledore “I never asked how you felt about me naming him after you.” Dumbledore replies “Candidly, Harry, it seems a great weight to place upon the boy.”. Bless ’em. Team Albus and Scorpius for life! Never thought being in Slytherin wouldn’t be so bad after all.
12 out of 10. Go see it! Even if that is in 2027 when they get round to making some sort of filmed version of this.