I haven’t reviewed any plays on my blog here before, but with all the hype around the release of and my own nostalgic affection for the novels, it seemed like the perfect place to break with tradition. The most difficult thing about reading a play is that much of what transpires is meant to be literally seen; thinking of it or treating it as a novel isn’t quite fair. But I should hope that in reading it I would at least be inspired to want to see it on stage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The play begins where the book and movies ended—on Platform 9 ¾ as Harry and Ginny’s son Albus prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for his first year. There are several time jumps that then take place in rapid succession advancing the present to Albus’ third year—making him thirteen—and it’s clear that Albus’ relationship with Harry is strained at best. Harry isn’t thrilled with Albus’ friendship with Scorpius Malfoy and Albus resents the expectations and attention he receives as the son of Harry Potter—it isn’t fair. As rumors circulate that the Ministry of Magic has confiscated a Time-Turner (which were supposed to have all been destroyed), Amos Diggory shows up with an appeal for Harry to travel back in time and intervene to prevent Cedric from ever having been killed during the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Harry refuses but Albus overhears and decides he wants to help right an injustice he sees as being Harry’s fault. But of course, terrible things can happen to those who meddle with time.
The biggest thing to keep in mind with the play might also be the hardest because of how it’s all been marketed—J.K. Rowling didn’t write it. She may have inspired it with her characters and she probably worked closely with Jack Thorne as he wrote the script, but it becomes clear quickly that she was not the writer. Some of it might be attributable to the differences between writing for the stage as opposed to writing for a novel, but there’s a tangible lack of her characteristic subtlety. While I can force myself to look past this when it takes the form of characters basically narrating their actions (on a stage not all audience members will be able to physically see what they’re doing from wherever they’re seated), thematically at least I would think that a lighter touch might be used, especially where the actors are there with their performances to help carry the messages.
Perhaps even that wouldn’t bother me so much if the story itself didn’t feel like a retread of something that’s been done a million times. In many ways, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child feels like someone decided to let the Harry Potter characters soak in a bath of classic (or clichéd) time/time-travel related tales—Back to the Future, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Christmas Carol. For something about the next generation, most of the play was spent going over familiar territory, bringing back many characters who are supposed to have passed on. It makes sense that bringing reader favorites into the story would make the play more marketable, but it came across—to me, at least—as a cheap ploy. It’s hard to tell without actors’ performances to help/adjust, but several of the characters felt drastically different from their counterparts in the novel (outside of the times when it was intentional and tied to the story), most notably for me—Ron.
So while I would be intrigued—and I’m sure, entertained—to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on stage, it isn’t one I’m planning on actively seeking out. The presentation of the material might be impressive, but ultimately I have a hard time with the spectacle of a show if I don’t connect with the underlying story and in this case, it failed to connect. It was enjoyable on the whole, but it lacked a bit of the magic that the stories within the novels contained. Now I’m especially interested to see how Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them compares since J.K. Rowling actually wrote the screenplay for that film.