From Stage to Page: Why We Loved “Cursed Child”
Warning: This reaction piece contains multiple spoilers for the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child play and script. Do not read on if you do not want to be spoiled!
With the release of the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script, fans have been voicing their mixed reactions. It seems that there is a pretty strong divide, with those supporting the play usually falling on the side of those who have been lucky enough to see the show.
As two people who have both seen and read the play, we (Alison and Sophie) have a lot of thoughts about the experience. Overall, both of us are entirely infatuated with the show, though we do acknowledge its faults. Here, we hope to be able to explain the experience of experiencing this story in both of its forms and how we think that affects our take on it. Click on each toggle below to see the full discussion.
Sophie: It’s been nearly two months now since seeing the play on stage, and yet, picking up the play script and reading it instantly brought back sharp memories of seeing it. It was clear on reading it that the play had made an impact, and the characters' voices, as well as the staging and effects, lingered in my mind, long after the curtain had fallen. This meant that when I read the text, I had these voices and images in my head already, which definitely added to the reading experience and enhanced the way that I experienced it.
I was able to appreciate the dialogue even more, getting to revisit it at my own pace, without focusing solely on the plot and not knowing what was coming. Knowing the story already meant that I was able to savor the dialogue and moments, especially those ones that I loved on stage. I walked out of the theater wishing that I could see it again instantly, so getting to revisit the story on page was fantastic. It was also still funny - I laughed out loud in the theater, and I did reading this on the train. It was also fascinating to see what limited stage directions the actors were given to work with and how they interpreted these directions. It was also interesting to see how characters and feelings were described, and it was clear that the actors had brought a lot to the roles and made an impact on me.
Alison: I was nervous walking into the theater to watch the show a month ago; I was nervous opening the book. Perhaps "nervous" isn’t the right word - anticipatory might be better. And I was not disappointed either time. With each, I laughed, I cried, I grinned like an idiot. It was so wonderful to see familiar characters again and see how they had matured and changed (or not, in the best way) in the years since they left school. It was glorious to get to meet and grow to love new characters. In any case, it was good to come back to this magical world. I have been waving the flag of how much I loved it for a month (often, it seems, by myself).
The two experiences, though, had marked differences. Theater is a different medium from a script, and watching a play is a different experience from reading. As such, I think it would benefit many fans to keep this in mind before they completely give up on or bash Cursed Child. So much of the story is told through the expressions, the movement, the sets, the lighting, and the music. The script is merely the bare bones of the structure, and when put into practice, it becomes something absolutely stunningly beautiful.
The thing I love the most about the show is its marvelous character relationships and themes. They echo those we saw in the Harry Potter novels: friendship, loyalty, finding your place in the word, the magic of love. We know that Harry and his friends have some grasp on these things, but it’s wonderful to see them grow in their understanding and how their children come to learn these things, too. You get a lot of this in the script but not quite all of it. It was nice to study the words in a bit more depth and gain some insight from the stage directions that I didn’t quite catch from the high seats on the balcony of the theater.
That being said, we do know that there are some things to critique (trolley witch, anyone?), but overall, we believe the good outweighs the bad. There were times in the theater I was worried if they could pull this off, but when I finally left for the night, it was with a smile on my face and knowing that this was a magical experience that I would want to repeat.
The big question for many, of course, is why did Cursed Child have to be a play? Why not a film, a novel - something that every fan could consume at the same time? And now that the script has been released, there seems to be a lot of fans who have only read that script who are extremely upset with the play. After both seeing the performance and reading the script, it is clear that they are different things. The story in its entire form needs to be experienced in its intended medium for anyone to get the full effect.
I love the magic of theater, and the staging, casting, and atmosphere around the play certainly highlighted why this story worked on stage. Part of the magic of being able to see this story as a play was getting to experience the story, live, with a huge group of other fans, rather than in isolation. When you walk into a theater, you make a choice to suspend disbelief, the impact of the outside world, and become engrossed in the world of the theater for that short time - or in the case of Cursed Child, over a two-play epic. There is a special kind of atmosphere in the theater, and this story lent itself well to the magic of live theater. Rowling previously said that fans would understand when they saw it, why it had to be play. And it did; it just worked.
The thing about the theater is that is offers a special kind of suspension of belief. When you enter into an audience theater, you become an entity in the spectacle. Live theater isn’t like the movies or solitary reading a book; the audience reacts to the actors, and the actors react to the audience. Every performance will be slightly different. There is a certain kind of energy that accompanies a play, and that energy is essential to Cursed Child.
Had this been a novel, the time traveling aspects as well as Harry’s dreams and the subtle nuance that makes Delphi (brava, Esther Smith!) herself such a fascinating antagonist would have been confusing or seemed jarring (something that many seem to be noticing from just reading the script). Quite honestly, a novel may have seemed a little too much like fan fiction - a legitimate concern of many. As a film, this story would have seemed gimmicky; the different approach to special effects would have made them less ethereal and realistic, therefore making the entire thing seem a bit cheap. But with the theater, the story simply picks you up and sweeps you away.
Of course, one of the biggest differences between being able to see and reading the play is the staging and magical effects. Even if you’ve only glimpsed the set photos, it’s clear that there’s a lavish set involved, as well as breathtaking costumes and special effects. But it’s the way that the set is utilized and magic is created on the set that really helps to make seeing the play a truly magical experience.
It’s amazing to see how such brief stage directions were taken by the actors and creative team and made into something so vivid and striking. The staging of this show was truly magical - with moving staircases, wand fights, characters disappearing and changing into others. There were also terrifying sweeping Dementors and characters flying about the stage. At one point, the Dementors came into the audience, a chilling experience that I found myself covering my eyes for; it felt so real, almost too real, and absolutely terrifying. If you’ve been to any of the theme parks, imagine the Forbidden Journey Dementors that appear for a few seconds - and now imagine them more terrifying and circling around you for a few full minutes while characters you love are suffering on stage in front of you. And no one that has been in one of those audiences will ever forget the experience of having Delphi’s prophecy appear on the walls next to you and around the entire theater or Voldemort walking through the audience as he entered the Potters’ cottage in Godric’s Hollow.
As I read the text, I was able to conjure those memories of the striking stage craft in my head, which certainly aided my enjoyment of getting to re-experience the story. Despite this, the phrasing of some of the stage directions really struck me and added a different element to the way that I understood these characters. Here are some examples of the stage directions included in the text, which demonstrates how the stage directions are used to develop characters and hint at the way that certain elements of the world, such as the Sorting Hat, are interpreted.
The sorting hat walks through the students, who spring into their houses (19).
The silence following Albus’s Sorting is described as
one that sits low, twists a bit and has damage within it (21).
Scorpius boards the Hogwarts Express in Year 2
with big hopes and an even bigger case (25).
Scorpius laughs, pathetically grateful (17).
And perhaps my favorite, in every Time-Turning moment:
And there is a giant whoosh of light. A smash of noise.
And times stops. And then it turns over, thinks a bit, and begins spooling backwards, slow at first…
And then it speeds up (114).
However, there were also times where the stage directions... didn’t quite describe what was going on on stage. For example, the beginning of the scene at St. Oswald’s reads,
This is chaos. This is magic...and it is as wonderful as you might hope...what fun they have (60).
“Fun” might be some people’s word for it, but honestly, I found this scene to be akin to a hallucinogenic-induced nightmare carnival scene. Witches pulled yarn out of their mouths, things were spinning and floating everywhere, and I definitely think the prevailing emotion for both Albus and Scorpius was “fear” over “amusement.” It was a bit strange.
Overall, it’s crucial to remember that a script works differently than a novel. A script is merely a blueprint for a stage production, or a film, and the writer does not have the final say in the way that the words are interpreted. The stage production thus becomes an interpretation of the text, and gaps are left by the writer for the actors and creative team to fill. This means that the text is merely a sketch of the final production and in the case of Cursed Child, the stage set and magical effects really added several extra layers to the text.
One of the most striking things about this production was its use of music and movement. These were normally used during scene changes. The music was never overwhelming, but the interesting electronic-leaning style kept the audience enthralled with what was happening on stage. Whenever a prop (a table or the like) was moved, actors would swirl their cloaks over them and then take them off. It created this dance of fabric and light that served as a reminder of this magical world you were experiencing.
One of the standout music and movement moments was the transition into Godric’s Hollow. The village is represented on stage as just doors to various homes. As snow softly starts to drift down, witches and wizards appear through these doors carrying lit carved jack-o'-lanterns. They move to the far edges of the stage and place them in an arrangement. It is almost dizzying as they move back and forth, with the lights low and the music swirling. It was extraordinarily beautiful, creating the perfect kind of quaint village with an air of magic in it; and yet, that does not really come across in the script. Hopefully soon, the soundtrack will be released and everyone can take a listen!
The casting was spot on, and the actors really brought the characters to life. In terms of the adult characters. Harry, Hermione, and Ron brought those characters we loved onto the stage and became them. It was particularly moving to see characters that we had grown up with come to life again in front of us as adults, and yet they were still the characters we already knew. On stage, it was easy to imagine Harry and Hermione as Ministry officials and Ron as a joke shop owner. The trio picked up, in many ways, where we left off, and it was comforting to see them all still friends. I can think of no one better than Jamie Parker to be Harry, and as I read, the portrayals by these actors lingered in my mind. Jamie was Harry, just as Paul Thornley was Ron and Noma Dumezweni was Hermione. This casting made the move into adulthood seamless, and any doubts were washed away as soon as Harry started to speak.
The standout castings, however, were Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy and Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter, who brought these complicated characters to life on stage, carried the bulk of the show with them, and made everyone fall in love with their portrayals along the way. A lot of attention has been paid to Boyle’s portrayal, with his infectious enthusiasm, delighted geeky rattling off of facts, and believable insecurities. But Clemmett brings a necessary nuance to Albus, showcasing both his lighthearted side and his confusion, anger, and fear in turn. His particular dry humor and deadpan delivery of certain lines reveals the character’s snark, angst, and earnest desire to do right.
While J.K. Rowling helped develop the story and appeared to be very involved in the process of creating the play, ultimately, she didn’t write it. And yet, the characters that we love are in there. The world that we all fell in love with has been brought to life, like it was before. This is clear in both reading the script and seeing it on stage. Of course, it’s in a different medium, and reading a script is a completely different experience to reading a novel, which means that there are fewer comparisons to make. Knowing that Rowling was involved in developing the story makes me feel happy about the way that script is presented, and it is clear that Jack Thorne is both a huge Harry Potter fan and a talented scriptwriter.
And it’s good to remember that it’s not the first time we’ve experienced Harry’s story coming to life through the pen of someone else. The stories were adapted for film by scriptwriter Steve Kloves, and as MuggleNet's Kat Miller pointed out, this did not lessen our enjoyment of the films. We still appreciated the films as part of our Harry Potter world.
When it comes down to it, though, Jo’s fingerprints are all over this play. Most notably, this comes in the thing I love the most about the show: its marvelous character relationships and themes. It seems a shame to me that so many fans just seem to look past these altogether in their concern about the plot. The themes of the play echo and build upon those we saw in the Harry Potter novels: friendship, loyalty, finding your place in the word, the magic of love. We know that Harry and his friends have some grasp on these things, but it’s wonderful to see them grow in their understanding and how their children come to learn these things, too. In addition, there are strong themes of the consequences and complications of time, family, and becoming an individual. You get a lot of this in the script but not quite in the nuanced way that the actors and spectacle bring to it. It was nice to study the words in a bit more depth and gain some insight from the stage directions that I didn’t quite catch from the high seats on the balcony of the theater.
One of the biggest uncertainties we had about the plot was the character of Delphi, and this is certainly the plot line that has upset many fans. I loved the way that clues were planted early on about who she was, but I feel that the plot could have still worked without her necessarily being the daughter of Voldemort.
That being said, Delphi is an interesting and intriguing villain in and of herself. From the beginning, she appears with an almost Tonks-esque air: very bouncy, a bit clumsy, seemingly very friendly, and with a distinct style. Yet she was portrayed with such nuance that after Part 1, I found myself thinking, “I have no reason not to trust her, but for some reason, I can’t shake the feeling that I shouldn’t trust her.” Reading the script reaffirmed her crafty, manipulative genius and the way she perfectly toyed with Albus and Scorpius to achieve her ends.
Quite honestly, I’ve formed a few theories that I have decided to settle on to help me digest this major plot point. The one I think works the most is that Delphi is actually Rodolphus and Bellatrix’s daughter, simply because I have a hard time accepting that Voldemort would want to (or possibly even physically could) have any kind of physical relationship with anyone. It seems more in line with the character to think that he would see himself as above “base” or carnal needs. It would seem more in line for Rodolphus to have lied about Delphi’s parentage in order to be rid of her; he never seemed the type to care about relationships. Therefore, I can see him coming out of Azkaban, finding this girl, and deciding to lie to her in some spectacular way so that he would not have to deal with her. This would have perfectly contrasted with other children in the series, especially Scorpius, whose mother wanted to leave someone for his father to love (and was very loved), and Albus, who is cherished and adored, even if he and his dad don’t see eye to eye.
Another suggestion that I can see happening is that she is Voldemort’s child - but by Dark Magic. This was suggested by one of my coworkers, who thought that this fell in line with Voldemort presenting curses as gifts or honors, as he did with the Malfoys. What if he were to decide to “honor” Bellatrix’s loyalty and devotion by giving her a child - but therefore sticking her with a burden? Somehow, he could have used some nefarious spells or potions to impregnate Bellatrix.
And then, there’s the idea presented by MuggleNet staff member Madison, which may fit the surface level text the best. When he returns in Goblet of Fire, Voldemort declares his followers who went to Azkaban for him will be rewarded “beyond their wildest dreams.” And in Deathly Hallows, it says that Bellatrix spoke to Voldemort “as if to a lover.” So perhaps, Bellatrix did receive her desires in return for her services, or perhaps those desires were used to make her even more devoted.
Whatever the case behind her parentage, it is clear that Delphi plays the role in the plot of villain that will force Harry and Albus together, thus forcing them to come to an understanding of each other, and is therefore an important character in the development of theme.
Of course, we’ve only been able to touch on the lightest of discussions here, picking out highlights and focusing on the way that we personally reacted to reading the script after seeing the play. We hope that we can offer some deeper insight that will encourage you, the reader, to take a closer look at the play and balance its good points with those it may not have hit.
Look out for more detailed features coming soon, as well as reviews from staff members who read the script without seeing the play, and be sure to check out our detailed theater review!
Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.