'The paper version doesn’t deliver the magic' - Read Emer O'Hanlon's review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Released at midnight on Sunday, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the script of a two-part play now showing at the Palace Theatre, London.
The decision to publish it was mostly a move to appease the thousands of worldwide fans who were (understandably) upset that they would not get to share in the latest Harry Potter instalment.
Since that decision was made, however, the script has been publicised on distinctly cautious grounds, with the constant proviso that reading the script will be an inferior experience to seeing it onstage.
This much was immediately clear. Magic abounds throughout the play, some of it stuff I never would have thought possible to create onstage. Characters run through the barrier at Platform 9 ¾, their clothes instantly changing from Muggle wear into wizards’ robes and they use Polyjuice Potion to transform into others.
There are engorgement charms, Dementors, wizard duels, even exploding Pumpkin Pasties – all before our very eyes. Scorpius Malfoy remarks at one point that his ‘geekness is a-quivering’, and it’s not hard to imagine most of the audience nodding along with him.
Rowling may have pleaded with us to #KeepTheSecrets, but certain aspects of the plot have already become common knowledge. The play begins where the seventh book ended, 19 years later when all is meant to be well. About to start his first year at Hogwarts, Harry and Ginny’s second son, Albus, worries that he will prove a disappointment to his father, with whom he has a fraught relationship.
Albus’ first three years at Hogwarts pass at breakneck speed, as we see him sorted into Slytherin and become best friends with Scorpius, nominally Draco Malfoy’s son, reputedly Voldemort’s.
Meanwhile, rumours that Hermione (now Minister for Magic) and Harry (whose scar is hurting again) have confiscated a working Time Turner reach the now dying Amos Diggory, whose son Cedric was killed by Voldemort in the Goblet of Fire.
Persuaded by Amos’ niece, Delphi, Albus and Scorpius decide to steal the Time Turner and use it to save Cedric. Predictably, events spiral out of control, leading to some shocking revelations and a surprisingly emotional climax.
The play is undeniably plot-heavy, and requires a sharp working knowledge of the books. While I can’t go into finer discussion of the plot here, I will say that the time travel aspects of the story have been divisive among fans, not least because Rowling invented very strict rules to control time travel in the original novels which are completely changed here.
However, the greater complaint is a stylistic one. Rowling has always been very guarded with Harry Potter, and this is the first instalment of the franchise that she hasn’t personally been involved in writing. She co-created the story along with director John Tiffany and Jack Thorne, who went on to write the play. This is the first time that we’ve seen the characters and the world that we love handled by someone who isn’t Rowling (someone, indeed, whose style is quite different) and that comes across as disconcerting to a reader used to Rowling’s versions of Harry and co.
Moreover, some of the scenarios felt downright odd, seeming to bring the play into a bizarre fan-fictionesque territory. Ron and Hermione’s relationship, blissful and soul-matey, was a feast for the ‘shippers’, while Scorpius’ choice of date to the School Ball was mischievous fodder for those who would have liked to see his father’s love-life take a different turn.
The reappearance of old favourites came across as pure and simple fan-service. And sadly, these problems began to make the magic tricks (which should be awe-inspiring) feel like gimmicky, colourful distractions from a questionable plot.
It’s all very well for those defending the Cursed Child to say that to appreciate it, you have to see it, rather than read it, but the fact is that for most fans, this script is all we’ve got. We won’t get goosebumps as the Dementors drift onstage, or gasp at the sheer artistry of the magical duels. We won’t have the experience of watching an unprecedented theatrical spectacle with hundreds of other fans. The stage version may well deserve its glowing reviews – but the paper version doesn’t deliver the magic or the heart that we’ve come to expect from the series.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One & Two, based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne. Price €19.99.