Sylvie and I had very different reasons for wanting to see Harry Potter And The Cursed Child. My 14-year-old daughter has loved the books (and films) for almost half her life. I mostly wanted to go because John Tiffany directed it.
For those who know Tiffany’s work – and Scottish audiences, in particular, thanks to seven formative years at the National Theatre of Scotland – The Cursed Child is full of familiar flourishes. A gasp-inducing entrance by the Dementors reminded me – weirdly – of Alan Cumming’s descent from the ceiling in the opening scene of The Bacchae. And The Cursed Child’s magical scene-changes – in which stage-hands whisk props under wizard cloaks – conjured memories of the scene in Black Watch in which the regiment’s history is told via a string of costume changes carried out on the move.
Tiffany’s skill for marrying spectacle to brisk storytelling is tested to the limit by The Cursed Child, an elaborate story with multiple characters that unfolds over almost six hours. It’s a testament to his abilities that the time mostly flies by. Then again, he had excellent material to work with; by showing us middle-aged Harry and friends wrestling with parenthood, JK Rowling (with help from Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne) has enriched and expanded her epic wizarding saga in all sorts of rewarding ways.
Without giving away secrets – which you are explicitly asked not to do as you leave the theatre – The Cursed Child is about all the ways the past can haunt you, and how even the most heroic acts can damage relationships. It’s complex, grown-up stuff, given all the more resonance by the chemistry between the cast – the show may introduce us to a new Harry, Hermione and Ron, but you’ll believe they’ve been friends since childhood. A rift between two family members, central to the story, is absolutely believable and almost unbearably poignant.
Crucially, The Cursed Child is also enormous fun – spectacular, very funny, and full of gasp-inducing theatrical magic tricks (often prompting applause mid-scene) and fan-pleasing callbacks to earlier stories. But it’s the maturity and complexity of the storytelling, and Tiffany’s supremely confident handling of it, that stays with you.
As soon as I found out about Harry Potter And The Cursed Child, I was so excited and really wanted to see it. I started reading Harry Potter when I was eight or nine, and at first I wasn’t sure about it because a few years before I had seen the movie and found the bit when Harry and Voldemort were fighting for the philosopher’s stone really scary, but the first book changed my mind. When I was finished I immediately wanted to read all the books. My favourite character is Hermione. I like that she is not just a love interest, she is clever and brave and wants to work hard and become someone who can make a difference, and you don’t see many characters like her in stories like this.
I feel like the actors had a big weight on their shoulders because people who know the books and the films expect a lot of them, so they really had to try and live up to what people wanted. But they definitely put themselves into the part. The set was quite simple but I liked it because they didn’t really need anything else and the actors were what made the story come to life. The play made me think about the characters differently; I’d only ever seen them as children and now they’re parents and not the main part of the story any more. The storyline was very different to anything JK Rowling had written before but I really liked it.
I think it was just as good as the films, maybe even better because you were there in front of it, the people were real people, and the magic was real too. ■
Palace Theatre, London, www.harrypottertheplay.com