Review: Casting New Spells With 'Harry Potter & The Cursed Child'
I didn’t immediately fall for Harry Potter as a kid. When Harry Potter and the Philosophers/Sorcerers Stone was released in 1997, I was already in high school, so it missed me as a target demographic. I didn’t actually dive into the books until the movies started coming out. The Chamber of Secrets film was in theaters, and the buzz around it made it look way darker than I assumed the series was. I’m a fan of darkness in children’s stories, and it perked my interest. Sorcerers Stone was on HBO at the time so I watched it, then immediately went to Amazon and bought the four pack of paperbacks of the published series at the time. Over the course of thanksgiving weekend my sophomore year of college, I plowed through all four books and then waited impatiently for Order of the Phoenix to be published the following summer. I was completely enchanted.
A story about a little kid who doesn’t fit in with the family or world around him, who literally lives in a closet, who escapes that and finds that he’s not weird at all, but in fact, there’s a whole world of people out there just like him? Can’t believe that I was drawn in so fully. Can’t imagine why.
Like most imaginary worlds, Harry Potter could only take me so far. Eventually we came to the end of the seven books, and then the eight films. And while it certainly lived on in vibrant and wondrous ways via Tumblr and fan artwork, and the often delightful, sometimes shade-filled twitter of J.K. Rowling, it seemed like the canon as we knew it was ended. Sure, there were little snippets of stories on Pottermore, and of course we all took that sorting test. (#Slytherin4Lyfe) But Harry had defeated Voldemort and the story was over.
So, 2016 for all its pain and suffering, is like a burning watchtower on a hill for a fan like me. First, Universal Studios Hollywood launched its own Wizarding World of Harry Potter for me to visit whenever I want. (I got Snape’s wand! #Slytherin4LYFE!!). Plus, there’s a whole new standalone period piece movie due out. Perhaps most exciting of all, however, was the premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a bonafide sequel in theatrical play form that would also be released as a printed script? What? LITERALLY MORE HARRY POTTER?!
Since I can’t just hop on a plane OR BROOM and fly to London (SOMEONE FLY ME TO LONDON!!!) to see the play performed live, and an American staging is still only being discussed as a possibility, my only way to experience Cursed Child is with reading. So last Saturday night, a group of us gathered at a friend’s place at midnight and did a live reading of the play, with yours truly as Draco Malfoy:
Cursed Child is an interesting sort of sequel. The last book was published in 2007, the last film released in 2011. Considering the decades between some of George R.R. Martin’s books or Stephen King’s Dark Tower series, that’s practically a normal gap in time for a natural continuation of a series. As a fan, it quenches my thirst for more just as I was beginning to feel it. Yet, even as a contemporary sequel, its setting of nineteen years after Deathly Hallows makes it feel like a long awaited follow up, a Force Awakens or a Rocky Balboa. I seem to feel the passage of those nineteen years, even though, for me, it has only been nine.
Still, the second my friend Suzee began the stage directions, those nine or nineteen years melted away. Quickly the group of us were as young as we were when we first started our respective Potter journeys. We were standing eagerly in bookstores or gleefully answering the door to an Amazon parcel, or waiting in line in costume to see a midnight release of a film.
So how does the play stack up? I’ll start by saying that when the publication of it was first announced and it was misreported as being a new book, I got very excited and then disappointed that it was just the script for the play. But honestly, the format really made it kind of special for me. I encourage anyone who hasn’t read it yet, or who has but maybe felt ho-hum about it, to get a group together, assign parts, and read it out loud. For a world that has already been so well hashed in the written word, and on screen, and in audio for those who have dived in to the audio books, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child provides a whole new way to experience Rowling’s fictional world, allowing a shared community experience as it happens.
There are limitations to the play format. For economy of words and pacing, we see very little of Harry’s actual family life, with a few brief appearances of his oldest and youngest children, James and Lily, who are otherwise absent from the experiences of middle child (and SLYTHERIN!!! FOR LYFEEEEEEE!!!!) Albus Severus Potter, who along with Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius are the play’s primary protagonists, with Harry following closely behind. The only other child we see with much detail at all is Rose Granger Weasley, Ron and Hermoine’s daughter, who mostly serves as a watered down version of young Draco and also the object of Scorpius’ affections at Hogwarts. For all the characters, even the adults that we know, even the ones who play a big part, we’re sort of left to imagine what happened in their lives up until this point, with just a few major reveal moments peppered in early on in the story.
Where the script excels, though, is in what it expresses instead of those bits of character history exposition. The effect we all have on each others lives is a big theme, and what can make good kids go back or vice versa. These concepts are explored both literally via actions in the story and figuratively through dialogue between the characters, and as an audience, really makes you understand the lifelong burden that would exist on the shoulders of the Boy Who Lived, and for his children. There are some truly heartbreaking moments, because this is a Harry Potter story, and there are times when I found myself gasping and feeling chills, or imagining just how certain things will be achieved in a stage play.
There is one major plot point that I won’t reveal here, since I already spoiled that Albus is a Slytherin, but it’s seemingly the one major sticking point that others I’ve talked to have felt a bit iffy about as well. If nothing else, it put a mental picture into our minds that we never wanted and will never unsee. But overall, this feels like a welcome continuation of the Harry Potter universe, and in an interesting and worthwhile way. If Fantastic Beasts can match it for quality, it’s definitely a great year to love Harry Potter.