Review of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’: Does J.K. Rowling Break New Ground?

Well, here we are. The “last” tale of the Harry Potter saga from J.K. Rowling and this time it hits the stage on London’s West End. Harry Potter and The Cursed Child (Arthur A. Levine Books, July 31, 2016) penned by Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, continues the story of The Boy Who Lived and his friends now all grown up, approaching middle age with more adventures awaiting them, and their children.

Harry Potter (Jamie Parker), Albus Severus Potter (Sam Clemmett), and Ginny Potter (Poppy Miller); Photo Credit: Charlie Grey
Harry Potter (Jamie Parker), Albus Severus Potter (Sam Clemmett), and Ginny Potter (Poppy Miller); Photo Credit: Charlie Grey

With Cursed Child being the first of the Potter series to break from the novel structure, I was interested to see how the Wizarding World would translate to the stage. But I guess I’m going to have to stay interested for a while because there’s just no way I can afford to see The Cursed Child live in London. I won’t go into many details speculating on how the directors and technical team would be able to capture the magic of Harry Potter in a stage production, but I’m pretty confident that Rowling wouldn’t want a cheapened version of her iconic creation. And I’m sure we’ve all learned plenty after the abhorrent mess that was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. Thankfully, Pottermore released the full script. Leaving out all important spoilers, here is my review:

Cursed ChildHarry Potter is now a married man with three children and has remained close friends (of course!) with Ron and Hermione. They’ve all progressed in age and in stature, being mainstay celebrities of the Wizarding World. Let’s put it this way, fans of Harry Potter won’t be disappointed with the lack of familiar characters. They come in leaps in bounds, ranging from flashbacks to the wicked Dursleys and Hagrid to encounters with more obscure figures like Moaning Myrtle and Bane the Centaur. That actually brings me to point out my first sort-of critique. Cursed Child most likely won’t bring in any new fans because if you aren’t familiar with the Potterverse then you’ll be utterly lost. That being said, with millions upon millions of fans across the globe, I don’t think Rowling is entirely concerned with reinventing the wheel on the Hot Rod that is her series. Now to the actual story — remember no spoilers.

The narrative primarily focuses on Harry and Ginny’s middle child, Albus Severus and his time at Hogwarts. On the Hogwarts Express he meets a young loner like him, named Scorpius (Draco Malfoy’s son). Let the tension begin. What Rowling and company do so well is introduce fleshed out new characters, while adding complexity to the the characters we already love so much. If you think being The Boy Who Lived is a whole lot of pressure for a young kid, try being his middle child. Albus and Scorpius are forced to deal with the impossible task of living under their parents’ legacies: Albus’ father being the greatest wizard of all time and the Scorpius’ father being equally disgraceful. Both find common ground thanks to their fathers’ pasts, which overshadow them; isolating the boys from everyone else. Together, they become the Hogwarts troublemakers; the outcasts. From society’s perspective, Albus is a disappointment. Rowling found a way to ensure that each character has his/her own uniqueness. Let me be clear: Albus is by no means a Harry-clone and Scorpius couldn’t be more different from the solemn Draco.

The unlikeliest of friends set off on a not-so-noble quest to correct past mistakes that’s really more of an adolescent, misguided misadventure. With the insertion of supporting characters like Rose, Ron and Hermione’s daughter (who is the WORST — think Regina George on a broomstick), this play benefits from the familiar themes of teenage angst and friendship in the form of new characters that fans will grow to adore.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan
London Production; Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

However, like all Harry Potter tales, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Harry’s scar becomes painful and that means Voldemort, or something just as bad as him has returned. The world is in danger again and Harry thinks the friendship between Albus and Scorpius could have something to do with it. I loved this take on Harry’s character; it compliments his astounding progression in the books. But Potter has got some issues. Who wouldn’t after going through what he endured? His fear for his children and the obsessive need to protect his loved ones distances him from those he cares about most. In every heated exchange with Albus (and there are plenty), Harry must think,’I saved the world and I thought life would be easier after that.’ He deals with the travails of being a parent just as chaotically as he did in trying to defeat Voldemort. That doesn’t mean he isn’t likeable, he’s just a logical continuation of Rowling’s design. All these emotions and tensions are sure to cause an explosive conclusion involving, magic, love, death, and (I lied, one spoiler) time travel.

The Cursed Child is a fantastic addition to Potter canon and ends, possibly, Rowling’s long tenure at Hogwarts. But the question remains, does it break new ground? I say, a resounding yes.

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