There is a metaphorical wool being pulled over the eyes of the public. We have been led to believe that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play released in book form meant to serve as the eighth installment of the beloved series, was written by J.K. Rowling. Yes, Rowling was involved in the writing of this show, but despite having her name printed in large letters under the show’s title, she was merely involved in creating the story. The play was, in reality, written by a Jack Thorne, who has done many an odd project around the West End and the BBC. Therefore, what we are witnessing is really Mr. Thorne’s interpretation of our beloved characters nineteen years later. Now, early reviews of the play have been fairly positive, and in order to review a play it is usually fair to see it, in order to take into account performances, staging, and effects. However, I think it is perfectly fine to judge this show based solely on the written text. Why? Two reasons. First, when a show is presented in the written form, even if it is meant to be performed on stage or screen, then it is intended to work across all mediums, especially page. Second, I have neither the time nor the massive amount of Galleons required to fly to London, wait for months for a ticket to the sold out show, and then purchase said ticket. I’ve got a better chance to see Hamilton (ed. note: I have zero chance of seeing Hamilton). So, now that I’ve established I will be reviewing this play based solely on the literary technique, how does it hold up to a near-perfect series? The answer is it’s sort of like a box of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans: a bit of a mixed bag, with some moments being toffee and peppermint, while others are boogers and earwax. Let’s dive in, shall we? Slight spoilers, for those who wish to know nothing about the book, but I won’t spoil anything you can’t already guess for yourself.
Opening literally in the middle of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ epilogue, the play follows Harry Potter; or, more specifically, the relationship between Harry and his son, Albus Severus “Don’t Call Him Al” Potter. When we last saw Harry and Albus, Albus was nervous about ending up in Slytherin. Dear old Harry tries to comfort his son on the subject, but it seems his attempts are in vain, as Albus ends up being put in the so-called “evil” house, where he immediately befriends social pariah Scorpius Malfoy. Fast forward four years, where teen angst, celebrity pressure and social ostracizing has turned Albus hollow, leaving him a dark, brooding child who constantly fights with the man he believes “cursed” him, his own father. Meanwhile, Harry’s scar begins hurting again, for the first time since his archenemy Voldemort was defeated. When a character from the past comes to Harry for a shocking request, it sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually lead the characters into a very battle for the past, present and future.
Negativity sells, so why don’t we just jump straight to my problems. This play is essentially the Harry Potter equivalent of Love Never Dies. For those unfamiliar, Love Never Dies is Andrew Lloyd Weber’s long-awaited sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. Except, instead of actually creating a fresh plot filled with new twists and turns that expand on the characters we know and love, Weber basically raided the Internet for plot suggestions. Betraying the work that he had done in the original, and any intentions of the original author Gaston Leroux, Weber postulates: “What if Christine was actually in love with the Phantom? And what if they did it right before she married Raoul? And what if Raoul became an alcoholic while Christine was pregnant with the Phantom’s child? And what if minor character and audience surrogate Meg Giry got all jealous of Christine and shot her, and was also a stripper, because the Phantom was also super rich and he bought Coney Island? Yeah, this all makes sense. *snorts cocaine off a vinyl copy of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat soundtrack* While this all sounds terrible, it also actually happened. And it’s not that different from what’s happening with Cursed Child. Characters make choices that don’t seem in sync with their original selves, lines of dialogue don’t line up, and plot points seem literally lifted from the burrows of the Internet. The only thing shocking about the choice of villain is how simplistic it really is.
As I can’t go into more detail on the negatives without delving into spoiler territory, let’s move onto the positives. The new characters are all fascinating and fleshed out, to the point I can only assume that Rowling wrote for them herself. Albus is clearly a conflicted protagonist, and one that is exciting to read, but it is really Scorpius Malfoy who steals the show. Scorpius has the outcast nature of Harry, the broad jokey sheepishness of Ron, and the brains of Hermione, making him instantly relatable to any early reader, and the fact that he is the son of Draco adds a whole new layer of complications that make this one of Rowling’s best creations. I can only imagine the magic (sorry) that will exist when an actor takes on this role on stage or (I assume) onscreen. As for our original characters, Hermione is, obviously, the one that makes the most fluid transfer between productions, as she was always Rowling’s favorite and the one she would most certainly be most protective of. Surprisingly, the other member of the original seven major students to receive satisfactory treatment is Ginny Weasley, who got the short shaft in the scripts for the movies but is plucked from obscurity here. While her romance with Harry was even rushed in the novels, here it is clear why they deserve to be together, as she is every bit his equal and provides a voice of reason that, when paired with Hermione’s intellect and Harry’s bravery, makes the heroes an unstoppable force. And there are two more beloved characters that surprisingly pop up to great effect. Professor McGonagall is as skillful as she ever was, with dialogue so carefully crafted I have to assume that the playwrights were prepared for when Maggie Smith eventually takes on the role. And while I won’t give away the other one, let’s just say that arguably the series’ most beloved character pops back up just one more time in order to make sure our love for him will live on forever, with each line pouring off the page like a symphony. I absolutely love this character, and as long as the dialogue remains this freshly written, I always will.
I’m very torn on how to grade this work. On the one hand, it has many problems, it’s glorified fan fiction, and the characters don’t always hold up. But on the other hand, that’s precisely the point. These are our characters. Rowling, even in the loosest sense, has granted us access to the world of these characters one last time, letting us have one last soiree with some of literature’s greatest creations, and forced the children of the Potter era to accept the adulthood they have all come to. And there is no way I can give that a negative grade. In all its flaws, it’s still Harry Potter. And, in one last hurrah, he will live another day.