There has been some disregard for the usual press embargo since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened for previews a little over two weeks ago, but at Th- Arcade we value journalistic integrity so this will be a spoiler free preview. A more detailed review will appear once the previews have ended. I was lucky enough to see both parts of the show on June 16th and 17th and was very pleased with it.
Anybody who’s read spoiler-filled articles will have spotted that some of them come with negative criticism. Some have compared the play to ‘bad fan-fiction’ and list the major plot twists, making it sound more like a soap opera. But what these articles leave out is any kind of background or build up which of course is going to make it sound like fan-fiction. The twists are shocking but the Rowling/Thorne team provide more than just the shock twist. How Rowling and co. do it differently is that although there are some silly plot points and what I would call fan pandering (particular in relation to a central relationship at Hogwarts), these points are nearly always backed up with reasons and connections to ongoing themes. It is fair to say it is often the group of people online who are clearly against Rowling coming back to writing this world making these statements, and I think these people will never be in favour of anything produced. I for one was a bit sick of fans trawling over plot points but although initially cautious, was surprised how much I loved the play. Even if you are a bit unsure about the plot, the stage effects, acting, and throwbacks/connecting up the themes (including Easter Eggs) more than make up for it. I would be a traditionalist, a canon-loving fan and although some of the dream sequences of Harry’s may differ slightly from what happened, for the main part things fit well into canon.
In the beginning it was hard to see a new person be Harry, but by the very end I was convinced Jamie Parker was indeed Harry all grown up. I was particularly taken by his and some of the younger actor’s performances during the play, in particular Sam Clemmett (Albus Potter) and Anthony Boyle (Scorpius Malfoy). Though some fans may be sceptical of going back to this world it is important to point out that if we are really to look at the incredible damage done to Harry psychologically we need to look at the older version of himself. Voldemort was dead, but all was not well and Parker truly captures the essence of Harry’s ongoing struggle with himself and his issues. The actor had the audience in tears in many places, particularly when you could see how stressed his limited knowledge of parenting made him. We also see the softer side of his person in a touching scene in Part 2 when having Dumbledore as a father figure to think about when considering his own parenting style, he laments how useless Dumbledore actually was at guiding him and how he is no better.
Although Ginny seems to be the only one to truly understand Harry’s struggle, I don’t think the character was fleshed out enough, which is a criticism I’ve had before with Ginny. This is no reflection on Poppy Miller, who provides much needed strength and in places humour as she calms Harry down after an encounter with Draco Malfoy. Some great support comes from Noma Dumezweni who nobody could ever question as Hermione again. She has a bit of a shocking plot twist, no spoilers here, but don’t worry her and Ron are great for the main part. Ron continues to be one my favourites in Paul Thornley and he lightens the mood at the right times. However I would have liked if Ron was used less as a humour device if I’m honest – he is still a great wizard and this needs to be seen outside of how great a husband he is. Alex Price truly captures the cold demeanour of Draco and as I’ve said before his encounters with Harry add a bit of humour. We see a bit more of the psychology of being Lucius’ son here which is enlightening but doesn’t completely enter into the hands of the Draco fanbase; he’s not saved as it were but is still very much himself.
Moving on to the young actors, I must say we are spoiled with this selection; even the extras are talented. Cherrelle Skeete is fantastic as the ambitious but humorous Rose Granger-Weasley, who has clearly inherited strengths from both her mum and her dad. Yet she is only really a supporting actress as Clemmett and Boyle take the lead as Albus and Scorpius respectively. Both are incredibly expressive and well-poised actors who have not only lines to deliver but a great deal of stage choreography to perform, from wand movement to moving around special effects. Both deliver complicated characters with ease and any tensions between the pair only heighten the experience. Boyle in particular blew me away as he is still fairly new to the craft, performing in a few stage productions and short films he wrote himself. Being a Belfast native may have biased me a little but I believe he is one to watch.
My favourite part of the show however was the vast array of special effects and the staging in general. I only noticed one or two ‘how they did it’ moments which is great for only the 3rd audience for this show. There is everything from wand sparks, to magical bookcases and if I were to rave about some of the effects I would probably spoil them as they are mostly plot points, but know this; your ticket is worth the price. Everything is well done and a surprise to audiences. There is even some interaction with the audience but again, no spoilers here! Although the music is a bit modern during the scene transitions, this quickly became one of my favourite things, in particular there are a few transitions set at Hogwarts with the moving stairs that are breath-taking. It is made obvious from the get-go that random cast members are moving the staircases, but this does not take away from the magic, particularly when any two characters are on opposite staircases being awkward with each other. Some great scenes leave effects out altogether as can be seen with the sorting hat, played by a very interesting extra who also appears as another well-known character later in the play. Some of the transitions include some excellent choreography, some of which include some film-esque wand work which is enjoyable to watch. Although the stage is fairly bare beyond bookcases, tables and other furniture for the majority of the play, there is an interesting spinning wheel at the centre and a gorgeous clock that features in quite a few of the scenes.
I do unfortunately have a few criticisms beyond Ron and Ginny’s characterisations. There are pacing issues that bothered me a bit in both parts, particularly in the beginning of the play and in the middle. Part 2 is also slightly weaker despite the more shocking plot twists. It seems rushed in places and there are one or two sections that need tidying up if there are to be no plot holes. One thing that irked me was the resolution of a plot point, quickly, admittedly not very simply but it still bothered me a little. Yet as the play produced more conflicts later on this seemed less annoying. It is safe to say this plot would not have fit into one part as it struggles to fit into two and I am confident that a bit of work, as is often done in the previews, will make this show even more magical.
The script for the previews is to be released on July 31 with an updated version with any improvements to be released at a later undisclosed date. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is mostly sold out until May 2017 but lucky fans can attempt to get tickets every Friday under the Friday Forty program which released some of the best tickets in the theatre for only £40 for both parts. For more information, follow the official Twitter. There were a limited number of tickets released on June 22 as well, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on Twitter.