July 29, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Short Review: Gasp-inducing, heart wrenching and a magical spectacle that transcends the stage. This play was written by and for the fans.  Scroll to the end for my longer review, along with a couple tips.

To say that I am a huge Harry Potter fan is like saying He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named is troubled. I have stood in line at midnight to buy the books then gone home and read them through the wee morning hours until my eyes could only stay open with the aid of toothpicks. I have Harry Potter cups and blankets. I have Harry Potter Christmas decorations, Harry Potter stationery, etc.  Nothing really out of the ordinary for the fandom. 

Top Harry Potter Sites in London

So I, along with thousands of other diehards, logged on last October and held our breaths for the agonizing wait to buy the first tickets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I had scrutinized seating charts for the Palace Theater (erroneously thinking I would be able to choose), written notes, pondered strategies. I was like an 11-year-old anticipating my owl invitation to Hogwarts. I set two different alarms the night before and woke up promptly at 3:00 a.m. in the morning. I had my MacBook and a PC laptop opened at the same time, just in case one browser was slower than the other or, horror of horrors, one died on me at the crucial moment. 
A trip to London was a distant, secondary concern to me.  Whether the play was going to be in Timbuktu or Siberia or Poughkeepsie, all I cared about was the coveted golden ticket. It was excruciating, waiting for my turn at the queue and seeing the astronomical amount of lucky souls ahead of me dwindling at a snail's pace. Like everyone else, I despaired, I gnashed my teeth, I lamented the unthinkable - what if all the tickets sell out before my turn?
There was a world of drama surrounding this play and I hadn't even seen a second of it yet.  All was well, however, when wondrously, happily, two hours after I first gone in line, one came into my possession, less expensive than I originally expected AND in my preferred seating area.
After the initial euphoria of securing the Holy Grail, earnest planning commenced. July seemed like an age away. I went on trips to other parts of the world, I bought a Harry Potter purse, and then before I knew it, summer arrived...
Palace Theater
Queueing an hour before the curtain rose, as instructed, the line wrapped all around the building, almost to the front of the gorgeous Palace Theater. Many were dressed in Hogwarts robes or Harry Potter T-shirts, some with their wands or wizard hats. Everyone was in a state of unbelievable excitement, including me. Even though we were strangers to each other, everyone in line felt like part of a privileged and special community.  We had scrimped and saved, we had flown from all over the world. Many, like me, had come to London specifically to attend the play.  We were true, diehard fans. 

At least most of us. I sat next to a daughter who had to explain Book 1-7 to her mother so that her mother would understand the significance of ... everything. I guess if you haven't read the books or seen the movies you can still enjoy the play?!  
My Harry Potter purse and program
After all the fanfare and hype ... it all came down to this. Once the curtain rose, the play began exactly in the midst of the last scene of Deathly Hallows when Harry, Ginny, Hermione and Ron were sending off Albus and Rose to Hogwarts at Platform 9 3/4. Draco is there too, with his son, Scorpius. From there, all of my preconceived notions of how the story would unfold was turned on its ear. Every expectation, except the one where I would be wowed, went out the window. 

For the starters the stage illusions and props were used with such ingenuity that time and time again, my mouth hung open with what they were able to accomplish. It was pure magic.  Gothic arches soaring from posts stood in for Kings Cross, Hogwarts and the Forbidden Forest with clever effects. There are inventive choreography involving old-fashioned luggages and moving staircases. Giant clocks at first seemed like mere decoration, until the story began to manipulate time and then their significance became clear. The music and choreography (especially at the start of Part II) enhanced the narrative handsomely. 

The cupboard under the stairs...
But take away the dazzling stage effects, stripped to its bare heart, the play is both a moving homage to the Harry Potter canon, as well as a twist-filled and worthy addition.  There are bittersweet appearances of beloved characters - prepare to have your heart broken several times.  New characters are introduced but I was most excited for Ron, Hermione and Harry. The actors playing them, Paul Thornley, Noma Dumezweni, and Jamie Parker, respectively, were cast perfectly. Never fear, Potterheads, Thornley was a redhead, Parker dyed his hair black, and Noma embodied the strength, smarts and emotional essence of Hermione superbly.  All of their performances made my soul sigh in relief - they were exactly as I had hoped them to be and more.  

No scenes were more emotionally driven and authentic, however, than the ones involving Harry's and Albus's troubled relationship. The boy who lived is now grown-up but less sure as a father than he is as a wizard.  Jamie Parker is riveting as an adult Harry Potter, still harboring the pain of having been orphaned as a baby and all the hardships he's had to endure.  Struggling to live up to his father's legend, Albus becomes rebellious as he tries to be his own person - which sets in motion a series of horrifying events. 
Jamie Parker (Harry) and Paul Thornley (Ron) signing autographs.
Harry and Albus may be the emotional center of the play, but it is Scorpius Malfoy who steals the show. To my utter surprise, he was my favorite character of the entire play. Socially awkward, a loner, and bookish - he is the opposite of what a Malfoy should be, thus reflecting the theme of children as disappointment to their fathers' legacies. As outcasts, Albus and Scorpius become fast friends, to everyone's horror. Unlike the triumvirate of Ron-Hermione-Harry, this duo is unpopular and Harry is convinced that their friendship will lead to a dark path.

Anthony Boyle (Scorpius) 
So who is the "cursed child" then? Albus - who falls hopelessly short of the legend of Harry Potter? Scorpius - rumored to be fathered by Voldemort rather than Draco? Or one of the new characters introduced? The cursed child is the theme that runs from beginning to end, as children are cursed by their fathers' pasts and struggle to emerge from the shadows.

One thing I must say is that for all the shocking twists that the play reveals, greeted by huge gasps, one particular twist seemed to wander into fanfic territory and I couldn't suspend my disbelief at that point.

Everything else, though, was blessedly outstanding. By the end, I felt sad that the journey was over, but relieved that my favorite characters had grown up the way I always imagined they would.

Bravo to the entire cast, crew and creative team of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child! You were all magnificent!


1. Wait until after Part I is finished to buy your merchandise. There are some items which will not be on sale prior to Part I   At this time, the souvenir merch is only available inside the theater so only those with tickets can buy.  Get your souvenirs before Part II starts or during intermission because...

2. As soon as Part II ends, immediately make your way to the stage door.  All the principal actors will patiently sign and take selfies with everyone in line. Buy a program for 5 pounds and bring a Sharpie because some actors don't carry their own signing pens.

3. At the end of each performance, the staff at the doors hand out free buttons with the hashtag #KeepTheSecrets.

4. I was able to bring in my own small snacks and a bottle of water. There is a bag check but security did not seem to care about outside food and drink, I think as long as one is discreet.

DIY Harry Potter Walking Tour of Edinburgh

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