If you’re worried about reading on: fear not, fellow Muggles. This review is spoiler-free and promises to #KeepTheSecrets for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. A rather ironic fact, considering most people are going to end up reading the script before ever going to see the actual play… but, nevertheless! A new era of witchcraft and wizardry is upon us, but does this story manage to conjure up the same spellbinding magic as JK Rowling’s previous entries? Or is this a case of a cash cow finally been milked too far?
Read on, and all shall become clear…
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – or, to give it its full title, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts I & II – Special Rehearsal Edition Script (what a mouthful!) – is a difficult beast to discuss. For starters, it is of course a complete different medium to what Harry Potter fans will be used to. This isn’t a fully-fledged JK Rowling novel full of detailed descriptions, it’s 300-and-something pages of dialogue and stage directions. In fact, it’s not even written by JK at all – she helped develop the story, no doubt, but at the helm for this instalment is Jack Thorne, better known for television works like The Fades and This Is England. Consequently, there’s a definite shift in voice, and not every character perfectly makes the transition from prose to play. Furthermore, this being a script, it’s a comparatively brisk read – whereas you might expect a Potter novel to last you a few days at least, you’ll get through this in an afternoon of dedicated reading. That’s not to say what’s there isn’t rich and full of adventure, but don’t expect the same value for money you’d get from a traditional outing – I managed to get the script at half price, and for £10 I think it’s worth the money. The RRP of £20 feels a bit of a sting though, unless you’re a truly devoted Potter fan who’s willing to pay full-whack to line JK Rowling’s pockets even more.
What can be said of the story itself though? I don’t think it’s a spoiler to mention that it picks up exactly where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left off, nineteen years later on Platform 9 and 3/4. Harry may still have his name in the title, but he’s by no means the central character any more – the main focus here is on his youngest son, Albus Severus Potter, and his relationships with some of the other characters’ children. I won’t say who, or how, or why, but it’d be fair to expect the unexpected. Yet, despite this, it’s very much still a story about Harry. We see plenty of glimpses into his adult life – as we also do for Hermione, Ron, and others – and, ultimately, everything that happens revolves around him in one way or another. It’s a creative decision that will please those who yearn to see Harry again, but it may also frustrate those who’d rather things moved on entirely and passed the torch to a new generation of Hogwarts students.
Now, there’s a line in the script that talks of “Harry Potter and his disappointing son”, which might have been a more accurate title for this eighth chapter in the saga. The real emotional core of the script is Harry’s relationship with Albus, and it’s the catalyst for well… the whole plot. In many ways, the story attempts to mirror real life – how can Albus ever escape from beneath his father’s shadow? The answer is: he doesn’t. Or rather, the story doesn’t. It tries, don’t get me wrong, but for every step forward into the future, it can’t resist taking a look backwards into the past to wallow in former glories.
Which leads on to a big, big warning for anyone about to read the book or go to see the play – make sure you are well versed in all things Potter beforehand. And I mean really well versed. It may give the impression of being fairly standalone and far removed from the preceding seven novels, but there’s references and callbacks to Harry’s adventures left, right, and centre – the only way you’re going to fully appreciate (and, at times, know what’s going on) is if you remember what happened in the first place. If you haven’t got time to read or watch all of the books or films, at least take a moment to refresh your memory of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – believe me, you’ll thank me later. Oh, and maybe take a gander at Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, too. There’s something in that story which is very much… well, spoilers.
Without disclosing any specifics about the characters or plot themselves, that’s about all that can really be said for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Is it a good story? Yes, I’d say so. It works well enough for what it is, and there’s some hugely interesting concepts laying at its foundations. But it’s certainly not the best that the franchise has to offer, and no matter what your expectations are it’s unlikely to go in the direction you probably thought it would. It’s one of the easiest entries to read, masquerading as an original and accessible tale, but it’s simultaneously one of the most convoluted and difficult narratives to follow. Then again, at the rate at which the tickets for the play are selling, it’ll probably only be die-hard Potter fans who get to see it for what it really is anyway – and, in reality, many of the script’s shortcomings would likely be alleviated by the inevitable spectacle of the stage production.
In short then, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is something of a paradox – and though you may not realise it yet, it’s a conclusion that’s all too telling.