The stage magic at play more than makes up for a weaker plot.
Entering the Wizarding World
I was first introduced to the magical world of Harry Potter shortly before the fourth book Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was released. I was volunteering that summer at my local library and my job was to reward kids who gave me verbal book reports with little treats and toys. All summer long these kids would tell me about all of these exciting adventures this little wizard boy was having so I asked my younger sister about it and she lent me her copies of the first three books, which I quickly devoured myself. From then on, I would get each book at their midnight launch and have them read within the day. As the movies came out, I saw each of them as soon as I could and when I saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two, it felt like a satisfying end to a chapter of my life.
So when the script for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was released, it completely passed me by. The fact that I had largely traded in my former life in theatre when I became more involved in the gaming and Kinda Funny online communities probably also played a part but I simply didn’t feel compelled to read the script in the same way I had consumed the novels and films. It didn’t help that my friends who loved the series said it felt more like fan fiction than a true continuation of Harry’s story. So I never read it. But a month or so back, out of curiosity I did at least seek out a synopsis of the story, assuming I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see it any time soon.
But then, much like a little boy living in a cupboard, my life was turned upside down overnight. In an organizational restructure, I found myself suddenly unemployed. But I also had my own “letter from Hogwarts” in the form of a non-transferable conference in San Francisco that had already been paid for so the company let me attend anyway as a parting gift of sorts. With no real reason to attend the full conference and report back though, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I was staying a block away from the Curran Theatre – home of the San Francisco production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child through June 2020 – and made a day of seeing the two-part play with a matinee performance of Part One, a break for dinner, and an evening performance of Part Two.
The story of Cursed Child picks up roughly where the Epilogue of Deathly Hallows leaves off: years following the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny have brought their second son Albus Severus Potter to Platform 9 and 3/4 for his first year at the wizarding school. On his way, he meets and Scorpius Malfoy, son of Harry’s boyhood rival Draco and the two become unlikely friends who bond over a feeling that they can’t live up to what is expected from them. Albus is the insecure son of the most famous wizard alive while Scorpius has grown up with rumors that he is secretly the illegitimate offspring of the Dark Lord Voldemort.
Meanwhile, Harry is now Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement serving at the Ministry alongside his childhood friend Hermione – the Minister of Magic. When rumors spread that they have recovered a prototype Time Turner, Amos Diggory arrives at Harry’s home one night imploring him to use such an item to go back to the past to save his son Cedric. Harry refuses but Albus overhears the plea and decides to take it upon himself to try and do this. What follows is, as is the case with many a time-traveling tale, a series of changes in the past that wind up having minor and major implications on the future, leading to altered timelines and dark glimpses into what might have been. The story, as I had originally been told does indeed come off as a bit of fan fiction mixed with “what if…” comic-book style storytelling. So I wouldn’t necessarily tell you to read the script.
But I would tell you to see the production if you are able.
The real joy and power of these plays is in the staging. The biggest question I had going into the show was “how are they going to approach the magic?” Having spent a decade on stage myself, I had some ideas of what to expect but I was blown away by the production design. Most of the magic in the show comes in one of three forms: magic tricks, physical stage effects, and technical stage effects. The magic tricks feel crafted by close-up magicians and experts in sleight of hand. Something as simple as hiding and revealing a wand in one’s hand can come across as a perfectly timed “Expelliarmus” spell when done right. I classify physical stage effects as those that might come in handy representing the use of Polyjuice Potion. With a bit of joyous choreography and some oversized wizarding robes, one actor can transform into another without needing a computer graphics budget. Lastly are the technical effects: those that might make a dementor fly around the stage or – my new favorite effect I’ve ever experienced – cause the set to seemingly ripple through time, like drops in a pond. So many of these moments are the epitome of the notion “you have to see it to believe” and even then, in some cases, you might not believe your eyes.
Another performative element that cannot adequately be described by text alone is the play’s use of music and movement. While firmly produced as a play, rather than a musical with characters singing out their inner desires, Cursed Child does feature a soundtrack from Imogen Heap. This soundtrack often serves to aid in the transition of scenes, with a chorus of performers enacting their choreography to help establish the setting and tone. Part dance, part avant-garde movement, these sequences might feature a bevy of wizards flowing around to transform the otherwise stark stage into Platform 9 and 3/4 or this chorus might embody a squad of alternate universe Death Eaters marching rigidly in support of the Dark Lord and his lieutenants. These moments were always mesmerizing and serve as yet another example of this magical world coming to life on the stage.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, like the best examples of the art form, is a piece of theatre that would lose a bit of magic if showcased in any other medium. In written form alone, the script can never convey the magic and wonder of seeing these moments play out before a live audience and that audience’s reaction will impact your experience as well. The collective gasp and awe we all felt when the characters traveled through time or the cheers when a fan-favorite character appeared add untold value to the experience. As a long-time attendee of live theatre, even I am hard-pressed to think of other instances where people of all ages arrived at the theatre itself in light cosplay, wearing wizarding robes or the attire of the various houses of Hogwarts. That communal experience is its own form of magic that will be lost if this is one day a film that you can just throw on to whatever streaming service has it.
9.0 / 10
That Incredible Play
- Incredible stage magic
- Evocative musical sequences
- A story that doesn’t quite recapture the magic of The Boy Who Lived
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