As a fan of the books, I recently re-visited the series via audiobook narrated by the delightful Jim Dale. Once I learned the stage play inspired by J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series would be in the Bay Area, I had to make sure to nab tickets. With my friend in tow, we dedicated a full day for the marathon viewing of Parts One and Two for Harry Potter.
The stage play premiered July 2016 in England, written by well-known British playwright, Jack Thorne, coinciding with the publication of the play in print. The story was branded as the eighth Harry Potter book because it was based on a novel written by Rowling, Thorne, and John Tiffany. “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” takes place nineteen years after the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows takes place.
Harry is working in the Ministry of Magic along with Hermoine. We learn Ginny is the editor for the sports section of their newspaper, “The Daily Prophet.” Ron is now in charge of the joke shop, Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes in Diagon Alley. Mirroring the events in the first book, we meet Rose Granger Weasley and Albus Potter as they navigate their first year at Hogwarts. They meet Scorpius Malfoy on the Hogwarts Express. Albus and Scorpius become fast friends, just like Harry and Ron in their first year. They both get sorted into the Slytherin House and are bullied for many years. A rumor about Scorpius flies around regarding him being Voldemort’s son doesn’t make him popular with the student body. Albus is having a hard time at Hogwarts, and Harry struggles connecting with his son. When Amos Diggory blames Harry for Cedric’s demise during the Triwizard Tournament seen in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” Albus decides to go back in time to save Cedric’s life. With a Time-Turner, he and Scorpius travel back in time, seeing their actions affect their present-day with dire consequences.
As a frequent theatre-goer, I’d never encountered so many audible gasps and guffaws in unison while watching a stage performance. People even “Aww” ed at the right moments during the play. All four acts kept the audience on the edge of their seats. The most salient aspect of this play was the real-life magic tricks and illusions on stage. Lighting, production, and stagehands executed a remarkable feat of practical magic on stage like seeing a chair be flipped upside down without strings or smoke blowing out of someone’s ears. I felt the awe and marvel of this story presented on the stage. I know because I felt it too – I couldn’t get enough of the story and the wizardry in person.
The musical score, composed by British singer Imogen Heap, repurposed and created from her albums, elevated the production. The electronic/synth-pop sound buoyed the emotional scenes and provided a creative flourish to brief interludes between scenes. Coupled with strong performances from all the actors and immense detail to capture spells on the stage, the plot’s pacing moved at a clipped speed, considering being performed in two parts. One of the most exciting aspects of the play is seeing Harry, the kid we rooted for all those years ago, as a grown-up and a father and everything that entails. Seeing him through growing pains, re-living the trauma of not growing up with his parents, and trying to be a good father while Albus Potter is trying to make his Dad proud. While the background has always been magical, seeing Harry like this grounded him more in our world and made him even more relatable.
Harry Potter and The Cursed Child provides an unforgettable experience. And is a play for Potterheads and non-Potterheads alike. While some references might fly over a casual fan of the series (meaning, they only saw the films), there are quick moments for an audience member to ascertain the context for a word, phrase, character, or event. Thorne did an excellent job of including both shorthand references for fans and new viewers. Potterheads and non-Potterheads will enjoy themselves for the magic and will stay for the story.