Caution: Spoilers ahead…
Reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, one thought kept coming to mind: “This would look really cool on stage!”
Characters transform using Polyjuice Potion, requiring trick on-stage actor swaps. They walk the constantly shifting staircases of Hogwarts. Dementors suck souls from main characters, even after petronuses (petroni?) are summoned, and there’s a chase scene set atop the Hogwarts Express, as the train travels over a bridge.
The latest installment of the Harry Potter canon, released at midnight on July 31, will test the set and prop designers as they prepare it for stage production in London. As a stand-alone book, however, it’s a bit like reading the script for an Avengers movie, without all the CGI special effects.
There’s a plot—a convoluted and tricky one involving time turners and alternate realities, allowing deceased favorites like Snape, Hagrid and Harry’s parents to make cameos. At times, it’s endearing, but it frequently shows signs of the “we need to make sure we bring back everybody” feeling common to bad sequels and Christmas specials. It took J.K. Rowling seven books to introduce Dolores Umbridge, the Dursleys, the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the Marauders’ Map, invisibility cloaks, sorting hats and the collection of dozens of spells. She includes everything in just over 300 pages of script. If it happened in the book series, it happens again in this play.
The biggest weakness of the plot, however, is the fact that it’s set 19 years after the end of the original series of books. The first rule of having a child as the main character is that parents have to be either dead or permanently off stage. When you allow your child to grow up and become parents themselves, however, you’ve written yourself in a corner.
The main characters in the book are Harry’s son Albus and Draco Malfoy’s son Scorpius who are best friends in the Slytherin house. The twist of sorting hat fate was heavily (and heavy-handedly) foreshadowed earlier in the book and is supposed to symbolize the vast differences between terrible-parent Harry and his sulky teenaged son.
Scorpius and Albus spend three years at Hogwarts as unpopular outcasts, Albus because of his personality and Scorpius, because of a ridiculous rumor that his true father isn’t Draco Malfoy at all … it’s Voldemort.
In their final year at school, the two kids are tricked into stealing a time turner and traveling back to save Cedric Diggery.
Of course, we all know that messing with the past is bad. Their first attempt to save Cedric results in Ron and Hermione remaining friends and never marrying. That means that Albus’ cousin Rose Granger-Weasley is rendered into never-existed status, a turn of events that would have been more urgent, except for the fact that she reappears on stage just once, 250 pages later, after the past is righted and she returns to existence.
Their second attempt produces a world in which Voldemort kills Harry Potter at the Battle of Hogwarts and rules over a dark, barren hellscape in which “Oh Potter” is now a curse word.
They finally manage to fix the past, only to find out that Voldemort did, in fact, have a son, who goes back, Terminator-style, to kill Harry as a baby.
If you’re thinking, “This doesn’t leave a lot for Harry and the gang to do,” you’re right. Their scenes mainly result in them doing “adult things” like having meetings at work and worrying about the kids. They also feature dialogue that is, at best, soap opera bad and, at worst, Lifetime Movie or After School Special bad.
Overall, it’s a fast-moving ride through the Harry Potter series. Fans will be thrilled to see their favorite characters and moments, because they’re ALL in there. However the script will likely leave them wanting more. And, yes, when the play becomes a hit in London and eventually finds its way to Broadway, “more” is likely what they’ll get.
Shawn Krest is currently the editor of Raleigh & Co.