I feel the need to preface this review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by saying that I am a huge Harry Potter fan. I’ve read the books quite literally hundreds of times, I’ve contemplated Harry Potter tattoos, I did a reading from Harry Potter at a friends wedding, and in high school, I was known as the girl who liked Harry Potter just a bit too much.
That being said, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an unrepentantly awful disappointment. It, at best, is bad fan fiction, and my above disclaimer should let you know that I’ve read – and written – enough Harry Potter fan fiction to know the good from the bad.
Cursed Child is not a new Harry Potter novel, rather the script book of the two-night play currently showing in London. I am sure the play itself is brilliant. All reviews of the production point to masterful acting, staging, costuming et al. Being such a large-scale production, Cursed Child no doubt has all the elements to be utterly enchanting. And enchanting it must be, because the assumedly great production values must act as a spell of smoke and mirrors to hide the terrible story.
Cursed Child’s script, story by Potter-mogul J.K. Rowling, director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne, follows the Hogwarts adventures of Harry’s second son Albus Severus Potter. After being sorted into Slytherin, the ‘evil’ Hogwarts house, Albus befriends Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry’s schoolboy nemesis Draco Malfoy. Albus and Scorpius bond over being outsiders at school, bullied for being the untalented reject of the famous Potter family, or in Scorpius’ case over false rumours that, quite scandalously, his father is not in fact Draco Malfoy, but Lord Voldemort himself. In theory, the play follows these boys make peace with the legacy of their fathers that have haunted their childhood. In practice, it’s a mildly compelling caper of time-travel, silver-haired girls, a trolley-lady with limb problems, Voldemort Day, baby blankets and gross mischaracterisation.
The reception that Cursed Child has received has been huge – the play is sold out over a year in advance, and the script is the fastest selling book of the decade. J.K. Rowling’s other post-Potter work has not had near this reception, suggesting that the drawcard for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is in fact the first four words of the title. The Harry Potter series is a huge childhood mainstay, and many Gen Y’ers who have picked up Cursed Child wanting to return to their childhood home of Hogwarts. Unfortunately, Cursed Child does not take us to the Hogwarts that we knew and loved.
These characters, once as real as our closest friends are now pale reflections of the Harry, Ron and Hermione we once knew. Hermione is no longer a brilliant, passionate, flawed character but an all-knowing Mary-Sue; Harry is an absent father, this being his point of growth through the play, but still out of character for the lonely orphan boy we knew who grew up longing for his parents; Malfoy lacks his character-defining sass; Ginny is not quite the wet-mop from the film adaptations, but much less than the brave rebel from the books; and finally Ron, initially Harry’s loyal best friend, the strategic mastermind who was sarcastic but caring, goes three acts before he says something that is not about food or a bad joke. The plot itself also relies on great rewrites from the original series – a large plot point is the rumours of Voldemort having fathered a child, a real stretch when Voldemort’s great flaw as a character was underestimating the power of love – and also on rewriting the ‘universe’ of the established fantasy world in terms of how the play handles time-travel.
The Internet is littered with many more examples of dissatisfaction from hard-core and casual fans alike. Perhaps they, like me, are too close. I grew up with the original Harry Potter series, and it is seared into my mind as a perfect whole, a nostalgic artefact of childhood. Perhaps the only difference between the books and the new play is the way in which a reader approaches it. The play has its moments – the dialogue is sharp, many sequences I can see playing out magically on stage, there are funny scenes, and while the plot following Albus and Scorpius around is weak in terms of time-travel adventures, the story of Harry and Albus uniting as father and son is quite touching. To a casual reader or viewer, this is probably a nice, albeit slightly bland tale of father and sons featuring some magic and a weird plot that is largely unrelated to the emotional journeys of the characters.
The titular ‘Cursed Child’ is suggested to the audience to be not one, but many characters – Harry, Draco, Albus, Scorpius and the character who is eventually revealed to be Voldemort’s child. I would perhaps suggest another – if you are like me and are not the casual reader from above, then like me, the ‘Cursed Child’ may actually be you, as this play has the potential to leave a very sour taste on a great childhood memory.
But just remember,
So now go read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone again.