“Harry Potter” is a generation’s modern mythology. Particularly, it seems, my generation, reflective of the worries and travails that were to come, and representative for a generation of the bookish (and the not-so-bookish, let’s be honest about how popular those books were) of an escape.
There’s something oddly poignant about “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” returning as not only an escape, but as a confrontation. As the generation that grew up with them enters adulthood, and as J.K. Rowling (here working alongside playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany) grows restless to explore this fascinatingly deep world further and further, “Cursed Child” gives a chance to reenter the world and deal with the issues that face them on the precipice of adulthood. It also does it with a hell of a lot more skill and quality than I think anyone expected from this eighth canon installment in the “Harry Potter” juggernaut.
First thing to know is that I’m not really reviewing the whole thing here. I mean, I am, I devoured this script with, again, much more hunger than I expected to have. But “Cursed Child” is a script for a stage play that’s just recently opened up on the West End, and which you would be a fool to not expect to see in America in a couple short years.
As such, we’re just reading the script, not quite taking in the whole of the intended work. There’s none of the effects that will clearly dazzle.
Side note: I know the reviews say that it’s amazing, but it’s legitimately hard for me to imagine them pulling off what’s described in the script. The script is describing magic that wouldn’t be out of place within the imagination or within the multi-hundred-million dollar CGI films, so all the more power if they can.
There’s none of the nuances or the mistakes that the actors could bring to the role. None of the directorial or staging or blocking choices. All we have is your imagination giving shape to what must be planned and executed.
But what is laid out here already gets the imagination coursing, and there’s some legitimately phenomenal story work on display here.
Sorry, one last side note. Plot descriptions are going to be very general. I know there’s gonna be a lot of spoiler-phobia, especially for the script to a play many of my readers won’t be able to see for years. Besides, some of this stuff is worth discovering for itself. In a lot of ways, just look at my Force Awakens review for how this stuff works.
“The Cursed Child” picks up actually roughly in the modern day, perhaps a couple years in the future (the first “Harry Potter” story to do so). We check in at the end of “Deathly Hallows” and move forward into the life that Harry and his friends have carved out for themselves. The script is the story of Harry and his family, and the legacy that he’s left for his son Albus to bear. At least in its most potent emotional core.
In a larger way, this is a story about the choices and the weights that those original stories had, and what the leftover legacies mean to these characters decades later. Ron and Hermione, Draco and his son, and the pain that Voldemort caused to so many. It’s a story thinking through the 19 years and how the weight of legacies can shift, especially with legends. It’s a story that’s very aware of its own mythological weight, much like the recent Force Awakens, a story in a similar place.
I make it sound melancholy, and in a way, it really is. There’s a heavy weight to this story, a maturity that has come not only with time, but with knowledge of what these works have ended up as. Not that the original stories weren’t mature, but “Cursed Child” has a particularly adult weight. There’s something that strikes deep about reading these people with the years gone by, how they’ve evolved, and thinking about how we’ve evolved alongside them.
But on the other hand, let me not make it sound like “Cursed Child” is some dour and crushing affair. On the contrary, much like its predecessors, it’s the playfulness and the imagination that makes it work. Not just in the wonder of the world, that’s there too. Plenty of thought and exploration goes into the magic and in playing with the toys that Rowling created.
The best part of the fun largely resides in its characters. Their dynamics are as wonderful as ever and their joking and conversations bring us back to remembering why we love Harry, Ron, and Hermione with almost no effort. Especially Hermione, who I can only imagine is better once a flesh-and-blood human inhabits her.
The new characters can be a bit more of a mixed bag. Albus (Harry’s child) and Scorpio (Draco’s child) have a wonderful chemistry on the page and actually feel like a logical continuation of the story of Harry and Draco and the sort of children they would end up saddled with.
Delphine, the mysterious young woman who drives Albus into the events of the story, is…well, she is what she is. She absolutely works for the story, but I can’t say I really like what her role is here. She feels like an import from a much more amateurish version of this story, and very easy for an actress to ham it up with.
Does everything about this work? Not particularly. There’s a few dud bits of dialogue here and there, especially out of Delphine’s mouth. A few new ideas seem to go nowhere. The whole story rests on a plot device that’s inherently confusing and it means the story kind of wants you to avoid thinking too hard lest you be going cross-eyed.
The spoilers that lit up the internet are all true, and some of the ideas baffle me as much now as they did when I first read them. That being said, reading them in the larger context of the work helps. This is a story that may not have every individual gear ship-shape, but they work together to form a constantly engaging, dramatic whole. It’s a thematic work, and a beautiful one at that.
I earnestly think this is the story that “Harry Potter” needed to come back on. While I may not necessarily be in love with Fantastic Beasts yet, I can already feel the power of this work that I can only imagine works better on stage. There’s a lot of oohs and aahs built in that the script describes, and there’s a strong and deeply emotional core that all that wonder rests upon.
I kind of imagine “Cursed Child” will have its detractors. There’s a few misfire story ideas in here that will be easy to take stock of and mock. But it’s a legitimately powerful grappling with the weight of the mythology that’s been created and an important exploration of a world that’s meant so much. On the whole, I’m only excited to ever possibly get the chance to see this live, and I’m reminded how much I really do love the story of The Boy Who Lived.