The journey from page to screen to stage has been a difficult one to date. Carrie (1976) received boos went it first hit Broadway in 1988 and eventually inspired the book Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops, the musical version of The Lord of the Rings received numerous nicknames in the press from Flawed of the Rings to Bored of the Rings, and Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, possibly the worse name given to anything ever, drew the harshest reviews in the history of theatre.
It was a brave move then by J.K. “I’ll never write another Harry Potter book” Rowling to further her fictional world on the West End stage, with the assistance of playwright Jack Thorne. Our tickets were luckily nabbed early in 2015. Informed that I’d only have to wait until February to see it, enthusiasm was high; excitement tapered somewhat when I was told that meant February 2017, not 2016. The scramble for tickets remains frantic. If you want to see the show you’ll have to wait until 2018 for your earliest opportunity and have £200 spare for top tier seats.
The next assumption I had corrected was that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts One and Two would only take up an afternoon of my time. I would actually be squeezed in to my theatre chair for the entire evening as well, Part One consisting of 150 minutes split by an interval, and Part Two offering the same after dark.
Critics were kind when the curtains went up on 18th November 2015, piling praise on the latest Potter instalment. But as the public shuffled in over the coming months the Potter faithful was less supportive. Some fans even dismissed The Cursed Child from the Potter canon altogether. With this caveat in the back of our minds we climbed the steep steps of the Palace Theatre and peered down to the stage below (mild spoilers follow).
The plays two biggest failings were clear from the start; the soundtrack and bizarre elements of interpretive dance. Fortunately the latter only crops up two or three times, either covering up a change of set or opening up the next act. It’s just as well though; the sight of Voldemort and his black clad followers twirling around the stage like an amateur dance troop is laughable. Unfortunately, the soundtrack is a much more present annoyance.
The work of composer John Williams was one of the highlights of the film series, but the stage play jettisons all of it in favour of a ‘chillout’ trance vibe circa 1998. It’s a soundtrack completely at odds with the atmosphere of the Potter world and an inexplicable choice considering Williams had already proved the perfect aural accompaniment. Every time the music builds in volume the suspension of disbelief, so tough to achieve on stage for a story this fantastical, crumbles.
Away from these two major faults there are only a handful of niggles. Jamie Parker (as the forty year old Harry Potter) was either having a bad day during our visit, or his acting style is to shout the majority of his lines at soon-to-be-deaf cast mates. Such was the level of spleen venting, his Harry was borderline unlikeable come the closing scenes. Brother in arms Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley) isn’t served very well by the script either. On the big screen Ron’s awkward sometimes bumbling nature was tempered by heroics and earnestness; on stage he’s relegated to comic relief, much of it not particularly funny.
With the Potter universe so neatly wrapped up at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part Two (2011) Rowling and Thorne have had to resort to a very tired plot device to inject tension back in to the saga, time travel. The alternate timeline / perils of time travel plot has been used so many times before in other fiction its become cliché, and its use in Cursed Child is particularly lazy. Only one of the alternate universes visited intrigues (Voldemort world) but even then we don’t remain there long enough to fully appreciate it. With Rowling's world of wizards being so inventive its disappointing that our vehicle for exploring it is an unoriginal and very convenient time travelling orb.
Despite this, the themes that the story explores are captivating; the Cursed Child is very much a sins of the father affair as Harry, Ron, Hermione and, most interestingly of all, Draco Malfoy have to wrestle with the impact their childhoods are now having on their offspring. James Sirius Potter was revealed as son of Harry and Ginny Potter at the end of Deathly Hallows: Part Two, but he was to be joined by sister Lily Luna and younger brother Albus Severus. The play focuses on the latter and his inability to match the towering reputation of his father, starting with his surprise placement in the Slytherin house during his first year at Hogwarts.
It’s in Slytherin that he meets Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco and his deceased wife Astoria Greengrass. Anthony Boyle as Scorpius is the best thing in the Cursed Child by some considerable distance. Introverted, nervous but sharp witted and funny, having to carry the weight of the Malfoy family’s deeds makes for a fascinating character arc. It’s such an interesting angle it actually works against Sam Clemmett as Albus Potter, whose own father issues are small fries in comparison, no matter how much of a strop Albus has. Though it will likely be Albus as the token Potter who is the focus of the eventual Cursed Child film series, whoever ends up directing would do well to consider shifting focus to Scorpius if they want the movies to be a success.
My main concern with watching Potter on the stage was how they were going to replicate the special effect spectacles that were so much a part of the film series. Whilst they were never going to replicate flying cars and womping willows, the effects that are in place have to be seen to be believed. Polyjuice potion transformations, levitating broomsticks, train top escapes, bookcases that swallow characters whole, its stage craft at its finest. And a lot of it to; nary a scene passes without some sort of trick or set piece. The climatic showdown is minor compared to the Battle of Hogwarts, but what it lacks in visual wonder it more than makes up for in emotional impact; sniffles rung out in the theatre as the finale was capped by a moving re-enactment of Hagrids first meeting with the newly orphaned baby Harry.
For those that can’t wait until next year for a theatre ticket or without the spare cash to buy one, Cursed Child is readable as a release of its script. Its questionable how well the story works on the page in this bare form without any of Rowling’s brilliant accompanying prose, but its almost inevitable that a full book release will arrive at some point. Its also been all-but confirmed that a new series of films will arrive based around The Cursed Child. How many films they can pull from the concept is debatable, but when you consider that the stage play whizzed through Albus and Scorpius’s first four years at Hogwarts in a single ten minute sequence, there’s already some mileage to be gained.
The bigger hurdle at the moment is the Fantastic Beasts series. Having confirmed that Warner Bros. will be releasing an astonishing five movies stemming from Rowling’s thin ‘textbook’ Fantastic Beats And Where To Find Them, it seems greed for box office dollars has overtaken good sense; if Peter Jackson struggled to make a trilogy from Tolkein’s The Hobbit, Warner will have an even tougher task creating a five film saga out of such slender source material. With Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them (2015) receiving a cool reception, the subsequent Beasts have their work cut out. There’s a good chance the series could become the Potter equivalent of George Lucas’s Star Wars prequel trilogy, if we are to see Radcliffe, Watson and Grint triumphantly return to Hogwarts for Cursed Child the movie.