Theatre Review by Howard Miller - April 22, 2018
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne. Based on an original new story by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany. Directed by John Tiffany. Movement director Steven Hoggett. Set designer Christine Jones. Costume designer Katrina Lindsay. Composer and arranger Imogen Heap. Lighting designer Neil Austin. Sound designer Gareth Fry. Illusions and magic by Jamie Harrison. Music supervisor and arranger Martin Lowe. US Casting director Jim Carnahan CSA. UK Casting director Julia Horan CDG. Video designers Finn Ross & Ash Woodward. Hair, wigs, and makeup by Carole Hancock. Cast: David Abeles, Brian Abraham, Shirine Babb, Jess Barbagallo, Olivia Bond, Anthony Boyle, Stephen Bradbury, Lauren Nicole Cipoletti, Sam Clemmett, Will Coombs, Joshua De Jesus, Noma Dumezweni, Jessie Fisher, Richard Gallagher, Susan Heyward, Geraldine Hughes, Edward James Hyland, Byron Jennings, Katie Kreisler, Joey LaBrasca, Andrew Long, Landon Maas, Kathryn Meisle, Poppy Miller, Jamie Parker, Alex Price, Angela Reed, Dave Register, Adeola Role, James Romney, Nathan Salstone, Malika Samuel, Alanna Saunders, Brooklyn Shuck, David St. Louis, Paul Thornley, Stuart Ward, Madeline Weinstein, Alex Weisman, and Benjamin Wheelwright.
But first things first. If you have no idea what muggles and veritaserum are, or who "the boy who lived" is, then all I can say is, Merlin's beard, where have you been for the past two decades since J. K. Rowling published "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone" (or, as it was titled in the U.S., "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone")? All right. All right. If you need me to explain, "muggles" is a term used among wizards and witches to refer to non-magic folk, like most of us in attendance. Veritaserum is a potion that when drunk (generally against the will of the drinkers) requires them to answer truthfully any questions that are put to them. And "the boy who lived" is a name bestowed upon Harry Potter as an infant after he survives a killing curse aimed at him by the dark wizard Voldemort (also known as "He Who Must Not Be Named"). Got it? Good. Now we can continue.
This stage production carries with it many years of backstory that has included seven books and eight feature films, not to mention supplementary reading material, an additional series of spinoff movies (the "Fantastic Beasts" franchise), at least two other plays (Potted Potter and Puffs), an officially sanctioned website (pottermore.com), a theme park, an exhibit of movie props and costumes at the Discovery Museum, and enough assorted merchandise to fund the economy of a small country. Do know, however, that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an original work, based on a story by Ms. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany. Mr. Thorne shaped the story into the play, and Mr. Tiffany directs. And, while Part I is mostly a hodgepodge of soft-sell character-introducing scenes, excursions into nostalgia, and modest bits of conjuring, do stick around. Because by the end of Part II, you will come to understand that this is not just some money machine, but a fitting addition to the realm of Potter.
It all begins in the same place and time as the epilogue to the final book and movie. Nineteen years have passed since Voldemort was defeated at the Battle of Hogwarts, and all is calm in the wizard world. The adults are at Kings Cross train station to see their children head off for their first school year at Hogwarts, where they will be under the watchful eye of Professor McGonagal (Geraldine Hughes), still on board as headmistress. Albus and Scorpius, both quiet and rather socially inept, sit together on the Hogwarts Express train and soon become fast friends. One thing that has brought them together is their shared and lifelong feelings of being drowned by their respective heritages. Being the son of the great Harry Potter is no picnic, especially when Harry himself is suffering from what you might call a wizard's version of PTSD, which ought not to come as a surprise to anyone knowing of his background. He and Albus are unable to connect, and Harry has no idea of how to make things better.
All of the parent/child anguish, which applies as well to Draco and Scorpio, leads into a rather convoluted plot that involves a plan Albus concocts to travel into the past and try to undo an unfortunate episode in his father's history. In this enterprise, he and Scorpius are joined by a young tattooed free spirit of a woman who goes by the name of Delphi Diggory (Jessie Fisher). The three of them represent a kind of funhouse mirror image of the old threesome of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, though the differences are substantial, as Delphi has secrets of her own that will come out later in the play.
This is as much of plot I will reveal, except to point out that anyone familiar with tales involving the terrible damage that can result from messing with time will understand that this is never a good idea. Suffice it to say, there are many challenges in store for Albus and Scorpus and their parents. Along the way, they will encounter a number of characters who play significant roles in the original books, leading back to the fateful day when Harry received his lightning-shaped scar and became an orphan.
Mum's the word, as well, on the specifics of Jamie Harrison's stage magic and the contributions of the video design team of Finn Ross and Ash Woodward, except to say this: Some of it involves techniques in use for a long time, some of it relies on clever sleight-of-hand, and some of it is truly original and thrilling. Just as the storytelling keeps getting better over the course of the two plays, the quality of the illusions also increases in complexity.
Christine Jones' set design wisely does not try to compete with the kinds of cinematic magic that simply are not available for a live performance. But the production does make creative and imaginative use of rolling staircases that can bring people together or separate them, multi-purposed pieces of luggage that morph into a variety of objects ranging from the roof of the Hogwarts Express to tombstones, and seemingly fixed iron arches that rapidly shift from representing the interior of a railroad station to becoming a dense forest. The overall effectiveness of the physical design is assisted in no small part by Neil Austin's shadowy and moody lighting. And could there be a more anxiety-producing set of costumes than the fascist-looking black ones designed by Katrina Lindsay and worn by the cast members who take over the stage for the opening of Part II?
The principal players are all well suited to their roles, and come into their own as the plot begins to coalesce towards the end of Part I. Poppy Miller as Ginny and Paul Thornley as her brother Ron come closest to seeming like grown-up versions of the characters we know from the books, and even more so from the films. Jamie Parker certainly looks like a grown Harry Potter, though the nightmares and flashbacks he suffers have taken quite a toll. In addition, several of the supporting characters will be very familiar from the books and movies. I will not, however, spoil the surprises their appearances will bring by naming them.
Overall, the weaker Part I eats up a lot of time in rambling bits of action that seem to make it pretty much a long introduction before the plot kicks into gear. It does, however, end with a bang-up scene that leads to Part II and the dark events that unfold as a result of Albus and Scorpius's interference with time. From there to the end, you will be fully immersed in what is truly a worthy follow-up to the extraordinary tale of Harry Potter, one that will speak to wizards, witches, and muggles alike.