JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series stood apart from the canon of children’s literature by allowing its characters to grow up. Peter Pan famously never aged and Just William was 11-years-old for about 50 years.
Harry, Ron and Hermione, on the other hand, were in their late 30s by the end of the seventh book, sending their own offspring to board the Hogwarts Express, and this is exactly where the eighth story – as Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is billed – starts off. It’s not written by JK Rowling, but she had a “consulting” role to make sure Harry doesn’t become a heroin addict or head up a crime syndicate.
Without giving too much away – we were urged to “keep the secrets” as we left the theatre – there isn’t enough new material to call it the next instalment. Rather, it’s a clever way of revisiting the story from a different perspective, allowing a host of fan favourites to put in an appearance (even some dead ones).
The plot centres around Harry’s son Albus and his unlikely friendship with Scorpius, the son of his arch enemy Draco Malfoy, who bond over the shared burden of having to live up to their famous fathers. Their friendship forms the emotional core of the play and it’s such a strong bromance that it occasionally appears to tip into actual romance. But, by the end, my gay hopes were dashed in favour of a new theory; the script simply suffers from a surfeit of sentimentality.
The production, which is split into a pair of two-hour plays, is action-packed in the first half, but turns into an extended therapy session in the second, the humour that made the books so warm and likeable is downplayed in favour of melodrama. Whenever book-Harry had a bit of a nervous breakdown, there was always someone there to give him hope, but stage-Harry is a haunted man, left to wallow in his trauma. This gets slightly tedious for an adult Potterhead like myself, but proved too much for the little Potterpots in the seats next to me, who were fast asleep. Amateurs.
The 42-strong cast, however, doesn’t stay still for too long, filling a stage dominated by gothic archways and spinning Roman clock faces. Perhaps most impressive of all was the magic, devised by illusionist Jamie Harrison; from people turning into other people, to fully articulated mythical creatures, the special effects were nigh on impossible to figure out and flawlessly executed. The arrival of the ghoulish Dementors to close Part One prompted spontaneous standing ovations, singling the production out as one of the most cleverly staged in the West End for some years – possibly ever.
Not to be upstaged by the props, the performances are strong across the board, with particular praise due to an uncannily Radcliffe-esque Jamie Parker as Harry and a star-making performance from Anthony Boyle, whose Scorpius became the show’s unlikely protagonist.
Could it have been shorter? Yes. Did anyone want it to be? No, not really. The truth is, Potter may have grown up, but his legion of – largely adult – fans around the world haven’t outgrown reliving their childhoods through him. And if it keeps producing hits as storied and spectacular as this one, why should they?