Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has some brilliant stage effects but is more like fan-fiction than the real thingby Nabeelah Jaffer / August 1, 2016 / Leave a comment
There are a few children but not many. Most of those who have given up consecutive evenings to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child are, like me, in their twenties. There are two Kuwaiti fans who in honour of Harry have etched silver scars on their foreheads, an American girl in a “Marauder’s Map” dress who has travelled to London especially for the plays, and rows of young men in round-framed glasses. A few middle-aged men in Potter-themed t-shirts pose for photographs.
I was eight years old when the first book came out, and I retain a nostalgic fondness for JK Rowling’s stories, which I grew up reading. As always with escapist fiction, much of the fun was in the detail—collectable chocolate frog cards and butterbeer and romantic sub-plots and friends falling out and making up again—against a backdrop of dozens of well-developed minor storylines and characters. The most complex and exciting of these defied a simple distinction between good and evil; at her best Rowling sketched out flawed characters who could be cruel and heroic by turns. Her detective plots were sufficiently fleshed out to make her alternative magical world a recognisable echo of ordinary pre-teen life—with emotional and moral dilemmas played out for heightened stakes.
The latest ambitious instalment in the series is beautifully staged and contains enough surprises to keep fan-filled audiences gasping and groaning. But it offers the bare bones of a Potter novel with little flesh. Part of this is down to the sheer density of the plot, which was drawn up by Rowling and her collaborators Jack Thorne and John Tiffany in a single session. (Those who wish to avoid spoilers should stop reading here.) The plays fill two evenings and almost five hours—but the scenes often compress the events of weeks and months into just a few minutes on stage, ferrying us rapidly from one plot-point to the next. The play opens with a version of the epilogue from the seventh book, with a middle-aged Harry and Ginny (Jamie Parker and Poppy Miller) and Ron and Hermione (Paul Thornley and Noma Dumezweni) waving off their children on the Hogwarts Express. We follow Harry’s son, Albus Severus (Sam Clemmett,) as he befriends Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle,) son of Harry’s childhood rival Draco (Alex Price.) Both are struggling with the burden of their fathers’ reputations. Albus quickly comes to identify with Cedric Diggory, a character who was killed off in the fourth book Goblet of Fire for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The two boys are drawn into a complex web of time travel that takes them back to the events of the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire and further back still. At the same time, Harry’s scar begins hurting again.