Audiences were left spellbound by this new Harry Potter tale, writes Joyce McMillan.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Palace Theatre, London
Seven novels about a mighty boy wizard, 45 million books sold worldwide, eight blockbusting films, and one of the greatest literary phenomena of all time, encouraging millions of children to return to reading in an age when the book sometimes seemed all but dead.
That’s the Harry Potter franchise; and the scale of its fame is such that only the exceptionally brave would attempt the task of bringing it to the stage – even when the theatre is the gorgeous Palace in the heart of London’s West End, and the show’s creative team is led by JK Rowling herself, alongside gifted playwright Jack Thorne, and director and co-writer John Tiffany, once the National Theatre of Scotland associate who gave us Black Watch, now one of the most sought-after stage directors in the world.
READ MORE: Is your Harry Potter book worth £40,000?
Yet after five-and-a-half hours of pure pleasure – for this story comes in two parts, like all the best blockbusters these days – it’s safe to say that the team’s boldness in creating a brand new Harry Potter story for the stage has paid off magnificently. They have delivered a show that has audiences gasping and cheering in delight from the moment when the lights go up on Christine Jones’s superb set, inspired by the great clock faces and receding arches of King’s Cross station – the place where all Harry Potter adventures begin.
The story opens 19 years on from the end of the last novel. In his late 30s, Harry (played by Jamie Parker) is now a top Ministry of Magic official, married to Ginnie Weasley (Poppy Miller), the sister of his best friend Ron (Paul Thornley), and Ron is married to the legendary girl wizard Hermione (Noma Dumezweni), who is Minister for Magic.
Both couples have children, and the story revolves around Harry’s difficult relationship with his middle son, Albus, who sets off for Hogwarts as the story begins.
Audiences seeing Harry Potter And The Cursed Child are sworn to secrecy about the details of the plot – there’s even a special #KeepTheSecrets Twitter hashtag.
What can be said, though, is that the story is an absolute humdinger of a Potter classic, gripping from first to last, despite a slight tendency to repeat itself in the second half.
And it’s full of that inimitable Rowling blend of intense psychological realism – as Albus follows his father in grappling with all the problems of teenage relationships, rebellion and identity – and sweeping, breathtaking magic, brought to life by Tiffany’s nine-strong design team with a brilliance and pace that often leaves the audience gasping.
Parker is a truly superb grown-up Harry Potter, both ordinary dad and saviour of worlds; Sam Clemmett matches him step for step as young Albus, struggling to live with his momentous inheritance, but still a hero in the making.
And when Sandy McDade’s fine Professor McGonagall, head of Hogwarts, speaks of a hard-won peace now put in jeopardy by those who hardly seem to understand the forces they are conjuring, it’s possible to sense that whole, thrilling collision of the personal, the political and the cosmic that makes the Harry Potter novels so compelling, for both children and adults; a battle between darkness and light brilliantly brought to the stage – and even more timely now than it was 19 years ago, when the Harry Potter story first emerged from the cafes of Edinburgh where Rowling once wrote, and began to astonish the world.