18th June, 2017, two show day
*An attempt has been made to keep this spoiler free in terms of plot, however it’s not totally spoiler free.
Harry Potter had a profound influence on my formative years – as it did for many children of this generation (and likely will continue to be for generations to come). Rarely does a piece of pop culture capture the hearts and minds of a nation(s) so completely, and, even amidst the squealing hype of its heyday, stay benevolently wholesome. Harry Potter brings people together, it brings out the childlike wonderment in all of us, and despite having grown up to appreciate a diverse and challenging world of literature (my love for which I must also pay a debt to J.K. Rowling! – get reading kids, it will change your life!) the Harry Potter series will always hold a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf. And so it came, by good fortune and fast fingers (my boyfriend won the fabled Friday Forty – it does work!), that on the eve of my 26th birthday I was transported once again to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry – a sort of final hurrah to childhood (no one likes growing up, surely?).
Regardless of the above sentimental gushiness, I had big reservations when it was announced that a Harry Potter play was in the works. The big-budget, big-bombers Lord Of The Rings (the musical) and Spider-man: Turn Off The Dark (the musical) were an unpalatable promise of what could be to come. However, The Cursed Child is not a musical (though for those that enjoy HP, silly humour, and a catchy tune I highly recommend StarKid’s affectionate parody, A Very Potter Musical and its sequels), and has a good measure of substance to offset the stylish spectacle. Jack Thorne, with help from Rowling, has crafted a play that stands up to the original series, as well as being a thoroughly stage-based fantasy family drama.
Harry Potter (Jamie Glover) is a middle-aged father of three, juggling his roles as family man, the Ministry’s chief of defence, and being the most famous wizard in the world. But Harry does not live with these burdens alone – his father’s fame and growing distance weigh heavy on young Albus’s (Theo Ancient) shoulders as he struggles to simultaneously alienate himself from the pressures of his heritage while also craving the love and admiration of his dad. Misunderstandings, foolhardy escapades, friendships and conflicts ensue, including all the twists and turns of a classic Potter story … and if I say any more I’ll be devoured by the spoiler hounds!
It is a testament to the writing that the play’s new characters are just as believable and endearing as the old favourites. In my opinion, The Cursed Child belongs to Albus and his fellow Hogwarts classmate, Scorpius (Samuel Blenkin), and, thanks to Blenkin and Ancient’s enthusiastic and touching performances, I defy anyone not to root for them. Glover is a solid Harry, his anxieties and sorrows are (recognisably) thinly veiled by a veneer of stoicism, while his maturity manifests in his lack of bravado and trepidation concerning familial and political matters (this isn’t the same Harry that threw himself into dangerous situations at the drop of a hat!). One of the charms of the play is that it is both familiar and new, the natural progression of the title character being finely drawn, and therefore making his new challenges of adulthood just as gripping as those which kept us up all night reading as teenagers.
But, of course, you can’t have a play about magic without a little stage trickery, and boy do director, John Tiffany, and illusionist, Jamie Harrison, deliver on that front! Levitation, invisibility, characters disappearing in a split second – all the spells and incantations that Rowling made famous are present and stunningly realised. The ingenious creation of the Polyjuice potion was thrilling, both in the magical effects and in the warm and fuzzy nostalgic feeling it gave me. Another (unnameable) moment was utterly overwhelming and goosebump inducing – I was in awe.
The skill that has gone into this production is breathtaking. Even from our seats on the front row of the stalls the illusions were impeccable, convincing and astonishingly beautiful. This owes a great debt to Neil Austin’s lighting – illuminating, yet concealing – and Steven Hoggett’s choreography. Actors flip, tumble, fly and freeze in time, and even the simplest scene changes are accompanied by a lyrical swish of a cloak and swirl of a staircase. The overall aesthetic of the production is its greatest asset, we are undoubtedly in the world of Harry Potter and Co. – heightened by the Palace’s transformation featuring Hogwarts wallpaper, dragon sconces and gothic architecture, as well as several instances where the magic overflowed into the auditorium. A final mention to Imogen Heap’s haunting and original score, which enhances but refuses to overwhelm the drama, and conjures a world of magic without needing to borrow from John Williams’ back catalogue.
Seeing this just a couple of weeks after seeing the National’s Angels in America is a reminder of what astounding work contemporary theatre can do. The legacy of Marianne Elliott’s productions of War Horse and The Curious incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is clear to see in the workings of Tiffany’s production, and it feels like we’ve entered a new golden age of theatrical vision and fantastical physicality. But what’s more, seeing these two productions in close succession has reminded me of the intense humanity and sociality of theatre – family, friendship, love – these are the things I will take away from The Cursed Child, however cheesy it may seem. The magic of spectacle in Tiffany’s production is a foundation to promote the magic of the human spirit and our unwavering ability to connect and bond, whatever the circumstances. As J.K. Rowling said, ‘Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home’, and the team behind The Cursed Child have created a new home for Harry Potter fans, young and old.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is currently booking until July 2018.