Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Play Review
(Mild SPOILERS ahead)
Over the last couple of months I've been re-reading the Harry Potter series (see here) with the intention of swotting up for my trip to see The Cursed Child. My sister and I got cheap tickets via Pottermore when they first went on sale, and so I'd had months to get used to the idea of going to see it (read: get myself thoroughly over-excited). Despite the widespread release of the script I'd managed to avoid spoilers for the most part, but I still didn't reach the theatre with a totally open mind. Everyone I'd spoken to who had read the play (at least, those who were devoted fans of the books) seemed to be of a similar opinion. Although they told me nothing about the plot I sensed eye-rolling disapproval and mild frustration. When I asked what they thought in general, the answer was always the same: "I'm sure it'll be better on stage". I hoped they were right. The critics' reviews had been great after all, and plays are meant to be seen not read. Still, I wasn't expecting much from the story. And a good thing too, because it was the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard. Yet the play was saved - dragged kicking and screaming from the realms of ridiculous - by the fabulous, wonderful cast. Plus some great staging and effects.
I'd be lying if I said I didn't thoroughly enjoy Cursed Child, but I refuse point blank to view it as canon. The plot was fun, and mad and random, but essentially it was fan-fiction, and the most clichéd kind at that. Knowing that the epilogue from Deathly Hallows (which I usually like to pretend was never written anyway) was the jumping off point, I was always a bit worried, but I was still interested to see Harry and co. as adults with Hogwarts-age kids. Unfortunately, some of the things I'd been dreading did come to pass: Ron is used largely for comic relief, Harry is a pretty useless Dad and playwright Jack Thorne seems to have as little interest in Lily, James and Hugo as J.K Rowling herself does. (Why even give Harry three kids if you only bother to make one of them three dimensional?) Fortunately, however, whoever they put in charge of casting gave us three perfect leads in Paul Thornley's Ron, Noma Dumezweni's Hermione and Jamie Parker's Harry. As soon as I saw the cast photos I got excited.
Ron looked more like the Ron of my imagination than Rupert Grint ever did. Hermione might look nothing like Emma Watson but again there was something very Hermione-ish in her look. And I was a fan of Jamie Parker anyway, I knew he would do Harry justice. All I can say is that all three of the principal cast members lived up to my expectations. So many of us have grown up with Harry, Ron and Hermione and we know them inside out - maybe better than any other characters in literature - so if they do something out of character we will know. But, while the script strained against the boundaries of our belief, the principals inhabited the characters in such a way that I just let the inconsistencies wash over me. In hindsight, maybe Hermione, as written by Thorne, didn't have as much warmth as the Hermione we know and love, and maybe Ron wasn't as clued up. But the actors' made up for a lot of what was lacking. Their general aura and mannerisms were so spot on (Harry in particular) that, for me anyway, they conjured up more of the characters from the books than the film actors were ever able to achieve. So, when Harry confessed he was mortally afraid of pigeons, sat crying over an old baby blanket or said things to his son that were close to unforgiveable, Jamie Parker did it in such a Harry-ish way that I could almost suspend my disbelief. Almost.
I can't credit the cast enough, particularly the main three (Ginny was good too, but she's a difficult character to get right - as Bonnie Wright proved time and again...) but there's also something to be said for the new characters. If there was a good point to the plot, it would have to be Scorpius. Scorpius is a lovely character on the page, kind and clever, with an almost Luna-like quirkiness. Although on stage I was a bit taken aback by his very odd voice, I warmed to the character almost immediately, and then to Albus too (whom I wasn't expecting to like) if only because he chose Scorpius as a friend. We had an understudy for Scorpius's dad, Draco, who I thought did a great job in possibly the most difficult role of the lot. As written, I found this new Draco a little too good to be true (when did he become such a sharer?) but the actor tried hard to make him convincing. I was also kind of disappointed that Neville didn't make an appearance. The majority of the play is set in Hogwarts after all, I thought it was a waste not to include Professor Longbottom.
In other good points, I loved the staging of the whole thing. The costumes and the music were great, but the most exciting part had to be the effects. Having watched the films, I feel like I almost took the magic a little bit for granted - but when you think back and realise that they're creating similar effects on stage with no camera trickery, it's nothing short of mind-blowing. I'll 'keep the secrets' and all that, but I think I can say that the Dementors were especially cool.
I'd also like to take a minute to note that the script is not actually that bad. I blame the story. Sitting in the theatre there was a great atmosphere throughout, and it wasn't only due to the spectacle, and the effects and the excitement of seeing Harry Potter on stage. It was a good play! There were some great funny moments (I particularly loved the Polyjuice bit) some touching scenes and lovely bits of dialogue that the cast can't take all the credit for (although they did bring out the best in everything). Basically it was a good script, it just wasn't what we've come to expect from Harry Potter. J.K Rowling is noted for clever plotting, detailed, in-depth, world-building and characterisation. Yes, it's a play. Yes it's a whole different medium. But still, we didn't get that in The Cursed Child. We got gags and randomness and re-hashing and nostalgia. Visually, it worked. As a play it worked. But as an eighth book? Not so much.
Other than the plot, and the odd character issue, I had one other gripe with Cursed Child - one that you might not be aware of if you've only read the play. A few months ago, on Twitter, J.K Rowling announced that, contrary to what we've known to be true for many years, apparently she intended Voldemort to be pronounced with a silent 'T'. Say whaat? If it was meant to be pronounced 'Voldermor' why didn't she say so in one of the millions of interviews she's given over the years? She had plenty of input in the films, why didn't she explain back then, and say, when Robbie Coltrane says the name for the first time, for instance, "actually Rob, the 't' is silent"??? I'll tell you why, because she just made it up now. To be annoying. And to cause me acute annoyance when my sister leans over to me at the interval of Cursed Child (no mean feat, our seats were so steeply sloped that leaning in any direction was tantamount to a death wish) and says, did you notice they're all calling him "Voldemor?"
So overall, what did I think? Well, taken for itself, as a play and a visual spectacle, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was magnificent (and if you get the chance you should definitely go to see it before the change the cast!) As an un-official, non-canon sequel (like Hook, perhaps or Return to Oz) it was good fun. But as an official 'eighth book' - which Ms-I-have-quite-possibly-gone-mad-with-power-Rowling insists must be taken as canon - it's a travesty. But I'm not going to take it as canon, so I can deal with it. Here's a few questions to ask yourself if you ever stray into that territory: 1) Does Voldemort have sexual urges? 2) Is Cedric Diggory a Hufflepuff and an indisputably good and noble man? 3) Would Hermione have still been successful had she never met and married Ron? 4) Does Panju sound like something Ron would ever name his child? If your answers to these questions are no, yes, yes and then no, you cannot, in good faith, take Cursed Child as canon. Whatever her Highness says. Also, I still think Harry chose the wrong career path. He should have been a teacher.
Have you seen The Cursed Child? Read it? What did you think???