Theater Review: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”
Note on this review
This is a full theater review of both Parts 1 and 2 of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We will avoid discussing major plot points, but to accurately represent and review this production, certain early plot points and characters do need to be discussed. If you wish to remain unspoiled on any and all details, we would recommend not reading any further. You have been warned!
In the heart of the West End, the world’s most talked-about theater production (since Hamilton), is now out of previews and live, six days a week, to a sold-out audience. The magnificent Palace Theatre, with its ornate staircases and castle-Esque frontage, is home to, officially speaking, the eighth Harry Potter story.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child focuses on the Potters and the Granger-Weasleys, 19 years later. Part 1 picks up precisely where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows ended, at King’s Cross station on September 1. On the Hogwarts Express, Albus Severus Potter makes friends with Scorpius Malfoy. Both are awkward boys, under pressure from the legacy of their fathers and the stories surrounding them. But the rumors aren’t isolated to Hogwarts. Over at the Ministry of Magic, Harry, the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and Hermione, a Ministry official, hear of troll movement in Hungary, giants in the Greek Seas, and the disappearance of the werewolves. Could followers of the Dark Lord be amassing once again? How will this impact the young and insecure Albus and Scorpius, as they struggle to find their own identities at the famous wizarding school?
From there, Cursed Child moves into a wholly unexpected, mildly chaotic, and largely unoriginal plot. It fails to create a new story and instead leans heavily on the past, both for its humor and emotional resonance. The nods to the original series range from the touching to ham-fisted references worthy of a StarKid production – and no disrespect to StarKid, but one has come to expect more from Jo.
But as a piece of theater, Cursed Child is astonishing. The live magic is a real feat, largely in its subtlety but also in its frequency, that makes spell casting seem like second nature to the characters. A combination of lighting, sound, occasional pyrotechnics and full commitment from the actors make every spell cast entirely believable, while impressive projections aid other charms and magical experiences. There is one particular duel sequence between Harry and Draco in Part 1 that uses more traditional stage trickery to great effect. The movement sequences, choreographed by Steven Hoggett, also help conjure the feeling of magic. Staircases move and set change seamlessly, from Hogwarts classrooms to Ministry offices, in a swirl of cloaks and capes. Initially, the movement also helps drive the pace of the show, but by Part 2 you are left feeling suspicious of its use to pad out the run time. All this is accompanied by Imogen Heap’s hypnotic arrangements, unobtrusive but wholly essential to the atmosphere.
The costume design by Katrina Lindsey is a mixed bag. A fresh take on the Hogwarts robes makes you wish they were available in the theater shop, while Hermione’s wardrobe is sure to be a cosplay favorite for some time to come. There is also a fabulous pink cape in Part 2. Less inspiring are Ginny’s bizarre sweater choice and McGonagall’s cape, which looks like a film-inspired fan outfit. Rather ironically, the latter are among some of the weaker characters of the production.
It seems no one beyond J.K. Rowling is capable of writing Ginny, whose character is as uninspiring in Cursed Child as she is in the films. She is partially redeemed in Part 2, but even this is entirely thanks to her relationship with Harry and not as a character in her own right. On the other hand, the quality of certain film performances make appearances from McGonagall, who apparently didn’t resign upon the arrival of James Sirius Potter, and Dumbledore, in portrait form, a constant disappointment. And the less said about the Hogwarts Express trolley lady, the better. However, not all cameo character appearances suffer the same treatment. Moaning Myrtle is brilliantly flirtatious in a scene with Albus and Scorpius, especially within the context of her relationship with both of their fathers, while a novel take on the Sorting Hat plays perfectly with the show’s theatricality.
The remaining leads are all brilliant. Alex Price plays a somewhat humbled but no less righteous Draco Malfoy. There is more of him in the play than may have been expected, but it’s one of the story’s greatest strengths since we get to see and hear more of Malfoy’s perspective. Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle, like Albus and Scorpius, respectively, are an absolute joy to watch. They own these characters, fleshing out the brief mentions in the epilogue to fully realized, lovable personas, and are guaranteed to become fan favorites. As for the trio, words fail this writer.
Paul Thornley’s Ron is funny, loving, and the perfect partner to Noma Dumezweni, who is every bit as sharp and brilliant as you want – and need – Hermione to be. And Jamie Parker is the perfect Harry Potter. There are traces of sassy book Harry, but Parker is just as troubled as young Harry, with the added pressure of being a parent thrown in. It’s in his scenes with Albus, when the pair struggles to connect, where Parker really stands out.
The chemistry and exchange between the six lead mostly redeem the play from the exceptionally dodgy story. However, as the story delves into unimaginable nightmares to reach its emotional climax, it’s a struggle to not feel disappointed since the past is dug up to pluck on your heartstrings, in the hope you’ll ignore the issues in the present and forget the loose ends of the future. Despite the two parts and lengthy run time, there are still many unanswered questions that will, at least, keep the fandom busy for a while. Simply “being a play” doesn’t excuse a story of these faults.
But when Scorpius is this charming, does it really matter that the plot’s a bit naff?