Spellbinding, ridiculous, jaw-dropping and magical.
On Wednesday evening I experienced a whole new form of theatre. Two shows in one day, with over 5 hours of magic and the return of some of my favourite fictional characters.
I won’t lie – I was a bit sceptical about the concept of this production. Whilst I wouldn’t turn down more Potter for anything, I couldn’t shake this underlying feeling that the series should be left untouched. I feared the stories I loved being tainted somehow by a sequel that would struggle to live up to their magic. Secretly I was also feeling slightly resentful of the hefty price tag, especially when one has to fork out for not one, but two tickets, to see the eighth story in its entirety.
This feeling was only heightened when we arrived at the stunning Palace Theatre on Wednesday afternoon to find that we had to climb 4 flights of stairs to sit in seats so high up in a stuffy theatre, on a day when temperatures reached 30 degrees. Hot, tired and slightly disappointed with the view I began to feel slightly disgruntled.
Fortunately, I was not allowed to feel this way for long. The atmosphere in the audience was electric. This was no ordinary night at the theatre. This was a room packed full with Harry Potter fans who have spent the past 5 years lapping up tidbits released on Pottermore or J. K. Rowling’s Twitter account, desperate just for a taste of the Harry Potter world.
There was certainly a lot of pressure for this production to be a knockout and, there is no doubt about it – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a standout piece of theatre, albeit not a perfect one.
At this point, I would typically give a little teaser of the plot but I have been reminded frequently, and in no uncertain terms that I must #keepthesecrets, so I will not be divulging any plot details here for fear of severe repercussions. Whilst I feel that this campaign is slightly naïve, I do actually understand. The play is packed of surprises, plot twists and drama and being spoiler-free can only enhance the experience. I know for a fact it is far from hard to find plot spoilers on the internet but I must wholeheartedly discourage you from reading them.
All I will say is that the story picks up where the books left off, on Platform 9 and 3/4 with Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny bidding farewell to their children as they begin their own Hogwarts adventures. What follows is a story which seeks to explore complex family relationships, the power of love and friendship and, of course, magical Wizarding World adventure, and it does so successfully, most of the time.
Where the production excels most significantly, is the magic. A big question hanging over the idea of Harry Potter as a play has always been whether the spells could ever be portrayed effectively on stage. I am not the first, and I will not be the last, to say that the special effects seen here are phenomenal.
You will be left open-mouthed at the tricks and illusions used to change costumes in just one swish of a cloak, to disappear into bookcases, and most amazingly, to portray the use of polyjuice potion. The creative team have truly raised the bar and every spontaneous round of applause for each illusion was wholeheartedly deserved. Indeed, it was the cast that got the standing ovation, but the behind-the-scenes staff deserved to be out there, front-and-centre alongside them.
Unfortunately, the production is, at times, let down by weak, even contrived, plotting. Some issues were too conveniently solved and some character development at odds with past characterisation. The Harry Potter books always came with the overpowering sense that J. K. Rowling knew exactly what she was doing throughout. The Cursed Child occasionally felt like they had a few big ideas for dramatic moments that they then had to find a way to string together. Sometimes it was successful but other times it felt a bit lazy and lacking in the fine-tuning of Rowling’s past works.
When the production was most powerful was in the more simple moments: the scenes where the relationships were put under the microscope, moving from portraying heartbreaking emotion to eliciting rib-cracking laughter.
It seemed impossible to imagine that new actors could ever fill the shoes of the beloved Dan, Rupert and Emma and yet Jamie Parker, Pat Thornley and Noma Dumezweni (Harry, Ron and Hermione) do a pretty fine job, effectively bringing a maturity to the characters millions grew up loving. Thornley’s Ron was brilliant, although it’s a shame that the character has been demoted to mostly comic relief (albeit excellent).
Personally, I was most concerned about the portrayal of Hermione – a character I idolised as a child and still believe is one of the best female fictional icons. Any actress taking the role would be under a microscope but Dumezweni is simply outstanding, bringing a warmth to the Hermione we know and love.
Yet Harry, Ron and Hermione are not the only central characters in this production. This play is also about the new generation. Sam Clemmett effectively encapsulates the struggles of being Albus Potter and Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy was simply fantastic. I cannot say more without spoiling it.
Unfortunately, the play has yet to solve the Ginny Weasley-issue. I still have not seen this character done the justice I believe she deserves. Not that Poppy Miller is a bad actress, I just can’t match up the fiesty Weasley of the books with this slightly frumpy portrayal.
Ultimately, groundbreaking special effects, set design and music combined with a captivating, albeit occasionally ridiculous, plot, and wonderful performances, makes for a pretty special night at the theatre.
At the end of the day, after 5 Potter-less years, we would have taken anything, but they gave us a heck of a lot more.