Harry Potter and the Cursed Child- Palace Theatre
*STRAP IN KIDS, this one is going to be long. Warning: here be spoilers. I have kept key plot points to a minimum but if you want to go in totally cold I advise you read this when you’ve seen it. I saw the show at a preview on 18th June which was fairly early on in the process so there may well have been changes in what I talk about.*
I was five years old when Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone came out, seven when my mum bought us the tapes and eight when I read Goblet of Fire, the first one I read on my own. I fell in love pretty much from day one. My friend and I used to play the Triwizard Tournament in the playground. Harry’s world has been in my consciousness for as long as I can remember, Harry, Ron, Hermione and I, as they did with millions of other kids, sort of grew up together. This play was a pretty BIG deal. So imagine how thrilled I was that it turned out to be quite possibly one of the best, most unrelentingly entertaining things I’ve ever seen.
It isn’t perfect. I have never been a fan of time travel as a plot device, especially when it features so prominently and the plot in general lets the production down. There are great big holes and a potentially fascinating plot line is left until far too late in the game for it to have a huge impact. The last couple of scenes felt a little rushed, like they had been tacked on to quickly resolve a sticky plot point. Several characters were woefully underused, Cherrelle Skeete as Rose Granger-Weasley springs to mind (I loved her and where she was going and I was gutted when scenes kept going by without her in) and the most shocking reveal gives audiences a mental image that they would all rather not have. I could dwell on the dodgy elements of the plot (several of which unfortunately are going to annoy fans who will only read the script) but I don’t want to. The rest of the show is so astounding that it more than makes up some iffy plot lines and the show isn’t really about its plot. It’s a show about trauma and the ways it can cause ripples throughout your entire life.
Despite the wonky plot, Jack Thorne’s script is marvellous. This is a funny play. There are consistent jokes, especially in the more light-hearted Part 1. One gag about a farmer’s market made the whole audience fall about laughing, as did a protracted speech about shouting at a baby. The jokes felt far more in the spirit of the book than the films ever did and the cast are all supremely comically talented. There are little nuggets of information too, like the fact that Harry does most of the cooking at their house, that are a delight for fans. There’s a real sense that this script was written by someone who cares enormously about their subject matter. Thorne has regularly said that he was a huge Potter fan and it really shows. It doesn’t rely so much on previous Potter knowledge that anyone who has never read a book will be completely at sea but it is full of enough gems that it feels like a true recreation of the world on stage.
Being a play about wizards, there needs to be a little magic. Jamie Harrison has created mind-blowing illusions (one involving a telephone box provoked ooohs, aaaahs and a huge round of applause. It was jaw dropping) unlike anything seen on the stage. Many are simple but breathtakingly effective. They feel so natural in the world created, all of which contributes to the feeling that you might just be watching actual wizards gadding about on a stage.
There was puppetry too, in the form of everyone’s least favourite snog, the Dementors. Vast, whooshing puppets with horrible blank faces, they are genuinely terrifying. As they swooped over our heads I went to grab my friend’s hand and had to remind myself that a) they were not real and b) I am a twenty four year old woman. But that is the joy of Cursed Child, it is so immersive. The fear that a Dementor might get you is very real and the show has the transformative power to make you feel nine again.
A quick word for Imogen Heap’s music. It is truly breathtaking, in particular one piano piece which is spine-tingling and atmospheric. I sincerely hope that they release the soundtrack because it is such an integral, wonderful part of the production that could be shared by everyone.
The performances are the heart of the show. I am reluctant to make too many comparisons to the films but the acting across the board just blew the films’ cast out of the water. Jamie Parker as Harry was a revelation. He walked on stage with his hands shoved in his pockets, said about 3 lines and undid 10 years of Daniel Radcliffe’s work. Jamie gets that Harry is a man who went through enormous, terrible trauma and, despite having had a good life for nearly twenty years, has never got over it. He is a man that, having never been parented, can’t cope with a child who isn’t easy and one that he cannot connect with. I thought the fraught relationship between Harry and Albus, played by Sam Clemmett, was dealt with fantastically. They shout at each other, there is crying, words are said that people mean and don’t mean but it all comes to a head in a scene in which Albus and Harry finally make some headway with their relationship. It’s incredibly awkward but so endearing and Parker does a fantastic job. There is nervous fiddling with his wedding ring and his voice cracks and wobbles in all the right places and it is so affecting. (We also learnt, in a very sweet turn of events, that Harry Potter the Boy Who Lived is scared of the dark, which is understandable. And also pigeons. Which isn’t but is lovely) Parker does pained incredibly well. Your heart breaks for him time and time again, especially watching him break down at his desk one day, wracked with sobs over his lost boy. (I also spotted that he has got I Must Not Tell Lies as a scar on the back of his hand. You can only see it if you are in the front row cos it’s really faint but that is some A+ attention to detail there)
Whilst Parker is exceptional in the title role, for me at least, this is Anthony Boyle’s show. As Albus’ somewhat unlikely BFF Scorpius Malfoy, I felt like we were watching a star being born. From the second he was wheeled on, sitting on his suitcase I knew I was going to like this kid. It was helped by the fact that he just seemed so desperately lonely and only wanted someone to share his sweets with. Scorpius is a beautifully rendered character who you can’t help but love. He is a bouncy, geeky, sarcastic little weirdo who adores Albus and can’t talk to Rose and doesn’t know how to deal with his dad. He’s clever too and, when he needs to be, incredibly brave. I was overcome on more than one occasion by the urge to hug him and tell him everything was going to be alright. He is a sweetie of the highest degree but in the interest of not spoiling I shall say no more than he has joined the ranks of Ron Weasley and Luna Lovegood as characters that are incredibly dear to my heart.
But Scorpius’ characterisation would be nothing without Boyle’s performance. He can command a stage with all the wit and charm of the older, more experienced actors. On his own for a fair chunk of Part 2, he pulls it off incredibly well. He’s a natural comedian too. Thorne’s script helps him out but he has absolutely golden comedic timing. It is pretty bloody hard to make the line ‘Oh my god, it’s Harry Potter’ rip-roaringly hilarious but Boyle manages it. (I loved his little shrug of acceptance when he got sorted in Slytherin. Only small but blissfully funny) However his most powerful scene sees him telling his best pal that perhaps, especially when he has both his parents, that being the son of Harry Potter is not as bad as having a dead mum and maybe also being the son of the Dark Lord Voldemort. It’s a scene filled with pain, sorrow and forgiveness and exemplifies one of J.K Rowling’s best traits, the realistic and wonderful representation of friendships.
But what of Ron and Hermione? Paul Thornley and Noma Dumezweni have both been perfectly cast. Thornley, like Boyle, is supremely comically talented and is so Ron Weasley it hurts. I cannot fault his performance for one second. One criticism would be that Ron was absent far too much and there is one incident that felt a little out of character. But, unlike the film, Ron is not merely comic relief. He shows real bravery when he needs to and is a proper sappy old romantic. As a result of Albus and Scorpius’ actions, Ron comes to realise he cannot live without Hermione, this wonderful, brilliant woman in his life and asks her to marry him all over again. It was incredibly loving and sweet and I loved watching Ron go gooey over his wife, even after all those years together.
Noma Dumezweni is every inch Hermione Granger. Minister of Magic at 40 (cos she’s Hermione, why wouldn’t she be) she still tells Harry off for having a messy desk and despairs when Ron is being daft. Neither is she perfect. Her reluctance to destroy an illegal object sets the whole plot in motion and it proves, as the books often did, that Hermione Granger is not infallible. Dumezweni plays her with a quiet authority and her chemistry with Thornley is entirely realistic. They are an absolute dream team.
There is brilliant support too from Alex Price as Harry’s schoolboy nemesis Draco Malfoy, who has mellowed considerably since we last saw him. Although Harry and Draco will never be best friends (there is a supremely daft but intensely enjoyable spell and insult slinging match between the two men in the Potter’s kitchen), they are drawn together by their sons’ friendship. Price imbues Draco with a surprising pathos and you do warm to him. Yes, he is still bit of an arsehole but he’s damaged too, grieving for his wife and desperate to protect his son from the vicious rumours surrounding his birth. It’s a grown up transformation and one that works well.
There is a scene involving Polyjuice potion that is an absolute masterclass in both performance and effects. From the astonishing transformation of Delphi, Scorpius and Albus into Hermione, Harry and Ron respectively (I was sitting on the front row, they were close and I still have no idea how they did that. It was seamless. I’m convinced it’s actual magic). It’s got people-eating bookcases, floating books and quite possibly one of my favourite gags in the entire show, courtesy of Paul Thornley as Ron-Albus. (I don’t want to spoil it but Noma’s reaction as Hermione is a thing of beauty and brilliance) But it’s Jamie Parker that is the tour de force as Harry-Scorpius. He is phenomenal. He has every one of Boyle’s mannerisms as Scorpius absolutely down and he plays the whole thing with a sense of genuine childish fun. From the tone of voice (especially his protestations that despite Delphi’s (Esther Smith) assurances that it doesn’t, Polyjuice potion DOES in fact taste like fish) to the nervous hair fiddling, it is a performance of pure genius. The genius is highlighted by the very distinguishable difference between when Parker is playing Head of Magical Law Enforcement Harry, striding about his office and panicky fourteen year old Scorpius-Harry, pretending to be his best friend’s dad. I would so happily watch the Polyjuice scene for days, it is in contention for one of my favourite scenes of anything in the theatre ever.
The little girl who pretended that the cranes outside her classroom were Hungarian Horntails would have killed to be there. Luckily for her, the grown up who sat in her place was just bowled over it. I was shaking as the cast took their bows and then pogoed about in front of the stage with my friend just shouting ‘OH MY GOD IT WAS SO GOOD’ over and over again. Because for five hours of my life I was back in the company of the people I had spend my childhood with. I felt like I had just watched one of the books unfold before my eyes and I was overwhelmed. From a theatrical point of view it is one of the most accomplished productions I’ve ever seen. As a fan though, it was more than that. It was an experience I will never forget and was (forgive me) quite simply magical.