In the unlikely event you were worried a leap to the stage for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would result in it becoming aggressively highbrow, self-consciously arty or grindingly bereft of magical high jinks, just chill the hell out, muggle.
‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is an absolute hoot, a joyous, big-hearted, ludicrously incident-packed and magic-heavy romp that has to stand as one of the most unrelentingly entertaining things to hit the West End. Writer Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany and a world-class team have played a blinder; if the two-part, five-hour-plus show is clearly a bit on the long side, it’s forgivable. ‘The Cursed Child’ emphatically exists for fans of Harry Potter, and much of its power derives from the visceral, often highly emotional impact of feeling that you’re in the same room as Rowling’s iconic characters.
There’s also a sense that this story of wizards and witches is being treated with the respect its now substantially grown-up fanbase craves. No disrespect to D-Rad and chums, but the leads here are in a different acting league to their film counterparts’: Jamie Parker and Alex Price are superb as battered, damaged, middle-aged versions of old enemies Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle are a fine, puppyish, sympathetic engine to the play as their awkward sons Albus and Scorpius, trying to escape their parents’ shadows. It is a bit of a sausage (wand?) fest in terms of the lead parts, although in the most prominent female role Noma Dumezweni is effortlessly shit-kicking as a middle-aged Hermione Granger.
Encouraged by Rowling, quite an, ahem, ‘enthusiastic’ anti-spoiler cult has sprung up around ‘The Cursed Child’. And I’m honestly not going to give anything major away, but if you feel learning anything about the plot whatsoever will ruin your life, it’s probably best to stop reading now.
‘The Cursed Child’ packs a lot in, but it’s basically a time-travel caper revolving around teenage misfits Albus and Scorpius, miserable at Hogwarts, stealing an experimental Time-Turner (a magical time-travelling device) from Harry. It’s a well-worn fantasy conceit, and Thorne is guilty of mining a few genre clichés. It’s also somewhat episodic, occasionally having the air of an old adventure serial, as the heroes flit between locations and times, generally delineated by reliably massive cliffhangers. But it does allow Thorne to dip into the length and breadth of Rowling’s universe in a way that will surely satisfy pretty much every fan.
I won’t dwell on the exact nature of the special effects, but they are astonishing, albeit sensibly restrained. Certainly Jamie Harrison deserves his own special Olivier for his illusion work, while Neil Austin’s lighting design is stupendous and absolutely key to the success of the magic. There’s a trio of puppets that are pretty much the best puppets I’ve ever seen. And Steven Hoggart’s startling movement direction adds an intense, ritualistic air that heightens everything: even minor characters ambling through the grounds of Hogwarts look intensely magical.
Looking backwards more than forwards, ‘The Cursed Child’ is as much a monument to the Harry Potter series as its continuation. But that’s fine, because never before has Rowling’s world felt so vividly, gaspingly, joyously real.
HOW TO GET CHEAP AND LAST-MINUTE TICKETS: Every Friday at 1pm 40 tickets will go on sale online at www.harrypottertheplay.com for each of the following week’s performances for £20 (£40 for both parts). It is also well worth checking the website for short-notice returns.
This review is from 2016. The current cast is Jim Fish (Harry Potter), Susie Trayling (Ginny Potter), Dominic Short (Albus Potter), Luke Sumner (as Scorpius Malfoy), Thomas Aldridge (as Ron Weasley), Michelle Gayle (as Hermione Granger), Phoenix Edwards (as Rose Granger-Weasley), and James Howard (as Draco Malfoy).