Since it opened on London’s West End, audiences at Harry Potter and the Cursed Child have been encouraged to #KeepTheSecrets. It’s both a clever marketing strategy – making it clear that the show is full of magic, plot twists and secrets worth keeping – and a genuine desire to protect audience members from having the show’s biggest surprises revealed.
But just like Moaning Myrtle – arguably the original messy bitch who lives for drama – we couldn’t keep a secret if our lives depended on it. So beware that this article contains spoilers. Not major spoilers, but if you want to go in as a completely blank slate, turn around right now.
Because the biggest secret being kept inside the Princess Theatre is the secret love that the play’s two young protagonists – Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy (played gorgeously by Sean Rees-Wemyss and William McKenna) – have for one another.
We are not the first people to notice this, and certainly weren’t the only ones talking about it at this weekend’s opening gala. This is the Potterverse relationship you’ll ship harder than Harry and Hermione (come on, you know Ron was a mistake).
Here’s the basic premise of the play: Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny’s youngest son, Albus, is heading to Hogwarts. At the same time Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, is hopping on the Hogwarts Express. The pair find themselves together in a cabin – the same place where Harry, Ron and Hermione first met – and there’s an immediate spark.
Then it comes to sorting and Albus is – shock horror! – sorted into Slytherin. More predictably, so is Scorpius. The pair are both outsiders; Albus is in the shadow left by his very famous father and there’s a nasty rumour about Scorpius that means people steer clear of him. Over their years at Hogwarts, the pair develop a very close bond and are an integral source of support for one another. They’re just two friends. Two good friends. Two best friends. In the same way that Xena and Gabrielle are just two friends.
Then they reach fourth year, which is where the trouble starts. Albus gets into a massive fight with his dad, who then forbids his son from seeing his beloved Scorpius. He fears that Scorpius is a bad influence and directs the head teacher at Hogwarts to keep an eye on the pair using the Marauder’s Map and keep them apart.
They’re both devastated, which we understand thanks to a beautifully staged staircase ballet, in which two staircases revolve around one another and Scorpius and Albus look longingly, heartbroken to one another across the halls of Hogwarts. The script describes the end of this sequence: “And now the staircases part – the two look at each other – one full of guilt – the other full of pain – both full of unhappiness.”
You can practically hear Taylor Swift singing in the background: “My daddy said ‘stay away from Scorpius’, and I was crying on the staircase, begging you please don’t go-oh.”
There’s even a scene where the two meet in a bathroom and Scorpius opens with: “So let me get this right – the plan is Engorgement.”
OK, we’re not saying that’s an intended double entendre, but we are saying that even Tony Abbott would have trouble denying the love between the two. Their emotional connection gives the first part of the show its anchoring. And the thing about theatre of this scale is that it needs emotional expressions big enough to sustain it. Friendship doesn’t always cut it.
Unfortunately the show is at pains to give Albus and Scorpius female romantic interests to scupper any impression that there might be something deeper than friendship going on. Every time a crush on a girl is alluded to, it feels like JK Rowling is shouting “no homo!” at the audience.
Which is a shame given that Rowling was so keen to point out that Dumbledore is gay after publishing seven novels without even the faintest whiff of homosexuality. Even in the Fantastic Beasts film series – which features Dumbledore in conflict with a man that Rowling says he was in love with – Rowling avoids making the character “explicitly gay”. We’re not entirely sure what “explicitly gay” means. Does it involve man-on-man kissing, or just a particular shade of eyeliner?
To be clear, we loved Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, but it’s a shame that it denies the sweet queer love story built into it.
The director, John Tiffany, last year responded to the accusations of “queerbaiting” that have come up over Cursed Child, saying that it “would not be appropriate” to show any sort of romance between Albus and Severus, who are 15 years old for almost all of the play. But the Potterverse has always been comfortable with exploring romantic connections and tensions between Hogwarts students; Albus and Severus are in fourth year, and the book about Harry’s fourth year, Goblet of Fire, is full of romances. And if it’s appropriate to talk about Albus and Scorpius having crushes on – and asking out – girls, then certainly it’s no less appropriate to acknowledge any of those feelings they might have for one another.
All we want is a Hogwarts where everybody is free to be themselves – where witches can love witches, wizards can love wizards, and gender-non-conforming magical folk can love whoever they wish. Surely that’s not too much to ask.