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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review

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Spoilers, spoilers, spoilers.

Maybe it was the way the play was described, maybe it was my own reluctance to get excited about an unknown story booked a year in advance, or maybe it was some mistaken expectations on my part about what “a play” feels like, but my greatest fear was that The Cursed Child would be A Very Serious Play. Not serious in a “Voldemort returns” way, but in a “Harry has a midlife crisis, divorces Ginny and struggles with his taxes” kind of way.

I genuinely worried about this possibility for months. It seems utterly ridiculously in hindsight, and was proved wrong the minute I walked through the theatre’s front doors, but I had many conversations about the possibility of The Cursed Child turning out to be The Casual Vacancy, Harry Potter Edition. That was what JKR was like when writing adult characters, right?

Looking back, I think I was worried about a far more nebulous, and far more likely, possibility. I was concerned that the play wouldn’t feel like Harry Potter. That I would get excited and then be disappointed. That the play would lack the magic and wonder of the books. That it wouldn’t feel right.

All those fears were unfounded. Cursed Child is very much a Harry Potter story. It invokes everything that Harry Potter always was, mixing dark plotlines with great characters and buckets of humor, capturing both the literal and figurative magic of the books on stage, while presenting the kind of poignant familiar character moments and great new personalities that readers would hope for.

In fact, far from being too serious, Cursed Child has a very fanficcy vibe. That isn’t a criticism — I devoured Harry Potter fanfiction as the books were coming out, to the point that it’s as integral to my feelings about the series as the actual books — but it’s definitely a statement of tone. Cursed Child ties closely into Goblet of Fire, as Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy take it upon themselves to save Cedric Diggory, the “spare” who didn’t need to die. That means revisiting old scenes and meeting old characters, and then obviously, inevitably, ending up on alternate timelines that, like fanfics, get to explore “what ifs” of that world. It also makes for an incredibly gripping and entertaining play experience. But then, I’ve always been a sucker for “what if” scenarios.

And, like many fanfics, it is dark. Sorry kids — you didn’t need to sleep tonight anyway, right? I’m not sure what was darker and more frightening: seeing Ron and Hermione receiving the dementor’s kiss in front of us on stage? The scene where young Harry lies in bed while Voldemort’s white hands reach out of the darkness? Or having Voldemort glide past you on the way to murder Harry’s mum and dad?

But in true Harry Potter fashion, it brought a lot of levity too. I know some of this has been lost in translation, since I’ve already seen people taking really funny jokes from the script book and thinking the lines are meant seriously, but as a play, it’s absolutely hilarious, mixing humor, adventure and darkness in perfect, Harry Potter-esque doses.

Of course, the presence of inevitable new fan favorite, Scorpius Malfoy, helped with that a lot.

The trio were perfectly played by the adult cast, at once familiar and new after twenty more years. Ron has certainly mellowed out from his teenage self, allowing us to mostly see the better and funnier parts of his character, but that makes sense, I think, if he’s no longer crippled by jealousy and has found a steady place in the world. Hermione is absolutely wonderful, as the Minister of Magic and a general badass. And Harry got a very nuanced consideration, with the flashbacks to his time at the Dursleys providing a lot of pathos, while his present day story focussed on some of his less admirable characteristics. He was frustrating, frequently even unlikeable, but so clearly the somewhat rash, self-righteous but ultimately very caring and protective Harry we know from the books.

I was a little disappointed that there was no New Trio, like a lot of people expected. Scorpius is fantastic, but I would have loved Rose to have a bigger role. She was great in the few glimpses we got, but without her, this was a very male-heavy play, beyond Hermione and the not-so-well-executed Delphie Diggory.

So let’s talk about Delphie Diggory, a character who felt like something of a Tonks replacement at first, until she as eventually revealed to be Voldemort’s child. She is, I think, the biggest problem people had with the story when they read spoilers, and I thought she was the weakest element of the play. Although the moment when she turns against Albus and Scorpius is incredibly well done, she then feels like too much of a caricaturish villain once she’s revealed. Maybe the writing for her wasn’t up to scratch, or the acting wasn’t up to the task, but she felt fairly two dimensional, despite the play’s attempts to make her more complicated and tie her story into its themes of loneliness and acceptance.

In general, the second part of the play was less fun than the first, especially after Delphie was revealed. Even at five hours long, the play tried to juggle more plot elements than it had time for, making certain elements feel rushed — I thought they’d spend more time in the alternate timeline in particular. But while the second half was weaker on some plot elements, its character moments were truly excellent. I’m writing this from memory, before getting hold of the script, so forgive my slight wooliness here, but I was struck in particular by the conversation between Draco and Harry, exploring how Draco’s isolation made him the person he was in the books. Or the scene with Dumbledore’s portrait, where Harry shouts at him for manipulating the people who loved him, and for leaving a young Harry all alone with the Dursleys. Or even the play bringing up how Ginny was possessed by Voldemort, something I always thought needed to be explored more in the books. I didn’t agree with all the character points — come on, Snape is still a jerk, no matter how he helped the Order — but it was great for characters in general.

But one of the key questions in my mind, both during and after watching the play, was whether, as JK Rowling claimed, it needed to be a play. And ultimately, I found that I agreed with her. The beauty of a play is that it brings places like Hogwarts to life, but only in outline. We can see these characters before us, but we still need our imagination to fill in the rest, making it the perfect stepping stone out of the written word, without threatening the worlds we’ve built in our imaginations.

But more than that, it means that we as an audience are physically, literally there as the events happen before us and around us. Although the hilarious Polyjuice scene was probably my favorite overall, nothing stands out in my mind as strongly as the very end of Part One — first, when the audience gasped in horror when Umbridge was revealed, and then as the Dementors filled the room, sweeping around and above the audience, huge and dark and terrifying.

But the moment that I think JK Rowling was talking about comes toward the end of Part 2, when all the characters find themselves in Godric’s Hollow on October 31st 1981, and, after two entire play’s worth of warning against changing the past, Harry (and the audience) can do nothing but watch as Voldemort kills his parents. This is the key moment in the Harry Potter story, far more than “yer a wizard, Harry.” It’s a moment that looms over all the rest of the series, its implications weaving through everything. And after all the fun and the darkness of the play so far, Cursed Child brings us back to that moment, and physically places us in the middle of the scene.

Literally in the middle. The characters look out from the stage as Voldemort walks down the center aisle, as the shouts we know so well from the books echo behind us and green light flashes. I left the play 15 minutes later with shaking legs, because of how powerful and deeply, deeply upsetting the scene was, to not just watch, but to experience.

And that’s what Cursed Child really is. It’s an experience. The play is going to Hogwarts, going on an adventure, stepping into the world of the books, with all the delight and darkness that that implies. The plotline might not be the most perfectly constructed story arc in the world, but as an experience, it really can’t be beaten.

I’ll probably write more on specific elements of the story once I’ve had chance to read through the script book, because I have a lot more thoughts, and I don’t want to rely on my memory to articulate them. But for now, I’ll just say that even if the “Voldemort’s child” plot was kind of silly, and even if the internet seems to have already decided to pretend the play doesn’t exist, I loved it, despite its flaws. And if that makes me Harry Potter trash — well. That’s not exactly news to me.

Rhiannon

Rhiannon Thomas is the author of A WICKED THING and KINGDOM OF ASHES. She lives in York, England.

14 thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Review

  1. I have so many thoughts, and I agree on basically all of your points. I think my favorite Scene in the entire play was Harry’s fight with Dumbledore’s portrait, because it addressed SO MANY THINGS I never expected we would get any kind of closure for. I had seen Jamie Parker in something entirely different in London last year, and was excited when he got cast because he had really impressed me then, and I thought that scene in particular was breathtaking both in terms of writing and acting.
    As for experiencing the murder of Lily and James… I love Theater, I’ve seen a lot of it, but I’ve never experienced anything like it. Especially, like you said in your last post, the SHARED aspect of the experience. I was crying my eyes out and could hear this giant hall of people around me reacting and crying with me and my friends. I still get chills thinking about it two weeks later.

    1. I still get chills too. I almost wanted to apologize to the friend I was watching it with for crying *so much*, but idk, I think hearing everyone else sobbing both made it more emotional and was kind of strangely cathartic?

      I still haven’t had chance to read through to that Dumbledore scene yet, but I’m really looking forward to it. I was stunned by it when I saw it for the first time, and now I really want to get my over-analytical teeth into it.

  2. Delphi definitely deserved better writing. I think they were trying to go for a Helena Botham-Carter’s Bellatrix vibe given that Bellatrix is her mother, but honestly that performance never accurately reflected the book’s Bellatrix, so it was a hindrance to have Delphi emulate that. Maybe if Rowling writes anything else with Delphi in it in the future, she’ll be better handled (I’d actually like to see Harry try to help her get rehabilitated given that Azkaban no longer has Dementors and instead uses Aurors like him.)

    1. I think that’s a good theory. She just felt too *big* to me, without anything grounding her. That said, I would love to see JKR develop her character more in the future. Or just read the inevitable piles of fanfic. 😛

      1. I certainly hope so. It would be a massive disappointment to just leave her at this, not to mention somewhat problematic – Dumbledore’s whole “it’s our choices that determine who we are” will not carry so much weight when Delphi as she is right now seems to be an argument for predetermination.

        When it was just Harry and Voldemort being compared and contrasted, I could buy Dumbledore’s rationale (both were orphaned shortly after birth, neither having parents who were bad people – just flawed, and had the same opportunities). But when we now have Harry and Delphi having eerily identical backgrounds, and it just so happens that the child of heroes (Lily and James) becomes a hero while the child of villains (Voldemort and Bellatrix) becomes a villain, it simply seems to be a case of genetics at work (any argument of choice for Delphi falls flat when you consider how extremely isolated and tightly controlled her upbringing was – she never even went to Hogwarts like Harry and Voldemort did!)

        Honestly, I think a more original route to go would have been to have Delphi still be Voldemort’s child but NOT be evil, and have Albus become the almost-villain all on his own through his own flaws, but get pulled back in the end, with an even greater lesson on display concerning the power of choices regardless of blood. Having a convenient scapegoat villain who was manipulating everyone and everything the whole time as part of their eeeviiil plan seems really artificial and forced in this particular story.

        1. That’s a really good point. I think the play was reaching for more depth, with hints about her loneliness and desire to win approval, but I think that’s one plotpoint where a play just doesn’t have enough space to do it justice, and it just fell a little flat to me.

          1. I agree that the writing being fleshed out and it, along with the acting, being more nuanced would have helped, but I still maintain the idea itself is weak from the get-go, which is mainly just because it’s a pet peeve trope of mine: I hate it when there are stories where there are flawed characters who make mistakes and the conflict seems organic and natural…only for it suddenly to be revealed that AHA! There was an evil villain manipulating everything and everyone the whole time and this was all some evil plan, and once the villain is thwarted, everything is fine. It’s an incredibly cheap, lazy and unrealistic cop-out, giving the conflict of the story a scapegoat when there needn’t be one. This is actually a reason I liked the twist with Hans in “Frozen”….yes, it was a third-act villain reveal, but he did NOT initiate the conflict or even manipulate it that much. He was an opportunist taking advantage of the conflict, and as such the conflict is not resolved with his defeat, but rather he is defeated because the conflict is resolved. That kind of thing to me is a much better and realistic route to take if one feels they need a villain in such a story, so if Delphi HAD to be evil, then I’d have preferred she just found out about the conflict toward the end and taken advantage, rather than be the one to actively manipulate things to make that conflict happen.

  3. I LOVED Cursed Child. I so wish I could have the experience of seeing it in person, but reading it will have to do for now. I was dismayed at how many people criticized Harry for being a shitty dad. Well, you can’t expect a boy that grew up the way he did to be 100 percent perfect as a parent, but we did see him try — and more importantly, KEEP trying, even when Albus was pushing him away. But I loved that Albus and Scorpius become friends: it was the first time other than Slughorn that we’ve seen Slytherins that aren’t evil!

    The Time Turner stuff reminded me of Back to the Future Part II, but it was all in good fun. I was screaming “YOU MORONS!” at Albus and Scorpius every time they tried to mess with the past. Whatever. It all worked out.

    LOVED the Harry/Ginny and Ron/Hermione. Like you, I was terrified one of them would get divorced.

    I’m not quite sure I accept Delphi as Voldemort’s legitimate daughter. The Lestranges were fanatics, and I wouldn’t put it past them to try to pass off their own child as Voldemort’s after he and Bellatrix died, just to revive the Death Eaters. She could have learned Parseltongue too; Ron opened the Chamber of Secrets in DH and he was no Parselmouth. Just a theory.

    1. That’s a really good theory about Delphi! Headcanon accepted!

      I wonder if a lot of the intense criticisms of Harry are coming from younger fans, people who are close to Albus’s age. Harry’s always been the hero, and seeing him make mistakes as a parent must be particularly crappy if you’re a teenager still dealing with parents yourself.

  4. I have two thoughts running through my head reading your excellent review: YAY, it’s as awesome as I hoped it would be!

    And 2: I am so jealous. SO SO JEALOUS!!

  5. Omg, the Voldemort had a child spoiler is real??? I really don’t know what to think of this O.o
    It just sounds so fanficcy to me that it’s hard to believe that JK Rowling wrote this herself.
    I don’t have the book yet. I’m hoping they’ll announce a theater showing of the play some time soon since reading your post about it.

  6. “The trio were perfectly played by the adult cast, at once familiar and new after twenty more years. Ron has certainly mellowed out from his teenage self, allowing us to mostly see the better and funnier parts of his character, but that makes sense, I think, if he’s no longer crippled by jealousy and has found a steady place in the world. Hermione is absolutely wonderful, as the Minister of Magic and a general badass. And Harry got a very nuanced consideration, with the flashbacks to his time at the Dursleys providing a lot of pathos, while his present day story focussed on some of his less admirable characteristics. He was frustrating, frequently even unlikeable, but so clearly the somewhat rash, self-righteous but ultimately very caring and protective Harry we know from the books.”

    This makes me happy. One of the reasons I never really got into HP fanfiction was because Harry, Hermione, and Ron are rarely friends in the fanfics. Usually Ron is ignored or is just to big a jerk, or Harry gets a “better” friend. I could never figure out why the fans latch on to Ron’s flaws while ignoring Harry and Hermione’s flaws.

  7. Great review, and perfectly sums up my feelings after watching the play: I wasn’t convinced by/didn’t like some of the plot, but I cannot adequately articulate how incredible the experience of watching the play was. I loved it and as you said, I really felt that I went on that journey and experienced those things; it was so engrossing and magical and swept me up in it completely. Plus those character moments were fabulous! I adored Hermione, Ron and Scorpius and felt that they were brought to life beautifully and believably. I gasped and cheered with everyone else when it was revealed that Hermione was the Minister for Magic, marvelled at the Polyjucie and Apparition/Disapparition moments, gasped in horror at Umbridge’s appearance, jumped when the Dementors appeared, cried at the end at Harry having to watch his parents’ murder. And laughed so much, so often! It was such a fabulous experience, and my niggles with the plot didn’t detract from that in the slightest.

    1. Yes! Your comment has totally reminded me of the magic of the show. “Cursed Child wasn’t good” is such an ingrained narrative online that it’s really easy to forget just how captivating the actual play was, so thank you for the reminder!

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