The grand literary saga of the Boy Who Lived finally continues in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child…as a stage play. It is a mixed bag, for sure. Some parts of the story deliver great character development, but it also suffers from an annoying protagonist and plot threads that feel like they don’t belong in the Harry Potter setting. Is it worth reading? Is it a good continuation? Well, there’s a lot to consider.
J.K. Rowling wisely anticipated there would be hell to pay if the new story was inaccessible to people not able to attend expensive London stage shows (probably 97-99% of all Potter fans), so the rehearsal script was published in a massive print run, complete with the return of those good ol’ midnight release parties. Reviews of movies and books aren’t usually my thing on this blog, but I’ve dabbled before. I finished this morning, my mind is still buzzing, so here are my thoughts. Don’t worry, we’ll be back to regular posts on Thursday, with more Potter goodness.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Disclaimer: This review is based entirely on the mass retail stageplay published by Arthur A. Levine Books, not the actual production. Actor performances may present a character differently than they feels in the script.
Harry Potter and the Flashpoint Paradox
It’s hard to even give a plot summary for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, because the story shifts in tone and direction several times. This is the first of the play’s problems: consistency. We start with Albus (son of Harry and Ginny) and his daddy issues, shift to some Flashpoint/The Butterfly Effect shenanigans, then end with a twist straight out of a fanfiction. The time travel plot feels most jarring. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban dabbled in time travel, but only over the course of a few hours. Albus and Scorpius blow that minor scale out of the water by meddling in events that happened twenty years ago, thus setting off lovely timeline hopping, all because Al’s Elektra complex makes him obsess over one particular event in the past.
The alternate timelines breed some interesting ‘what if’ situations, even if they’re not particularly original (we have the standard ‘things are slightly shittier’ timeline and the straight-up dystopian timeline). The parallel versions of characters create some great, but brief scenes, with plenty of “Oh shit!” moments. This is one area a book would be preferable to a play. A stage production cannot waste time on juicy histories of divergent timelines, but Rowling’s detail-rich prose of the novels would give us all of that and more.
Albus nearly kills Act One for me. His whining and moping outdoes his father’s tantrums in Order of the Phoenix, which is saying something. Resenting a legacy is sympathetic, but the angsting isn’t. Besides, his two siblings seem to shoulder the burden of Harry’s fame just fine. Middle Child Syndrome is strong with this one. He becomes more tolerable when the plot kicks into overdrive, but that’s mostly because he has no time to mope. I’m a sucker for an adorable outcast, but Albus Severus Potter even grates on me.
Another thing keeping Albus from ruining the story is Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius. The idea of Harry and Malfoy’s sons becoming besties sounds fan fic-y, but it works here. He’s an awkward yet unashamed nerd who bails the two out of trouble on multiple occasions with his encyclopedic knowledge. Scorpius shoulders a very unfortunate rumor that he was fathered by Voldemort, but unlike Albus, he doesn’t incessantly angst about it. Scorpius’s brief foray in an Albus-less timeline is possibly the best in the play.
Apparently Anthony Boyle’s portrayal of the character onstage makes him even better, raking in plenty of praise.
For fans uninterested in whining twelve-year-olds and A Sound of Thunder time travel shenanigans, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child trucks in fanservice and cameos from the original cast. Without Albus and Scorpius’s scenes, the whole thing could have turned into an extended Where Are They Now special. J.K. Rowling sprinkled post-Hallows character history in interviews since 2007, so it’s great to see what their lives are actually like. Some may disagree with me here, but Harry and Malfoy finding true friendship after years of antagonism was so sappy yet actually heartwearming. Snape even has a brief return in the “Voldemort wins” timeline and once again drops a feels bomb on fans when he accepts that helping to fix the timeline will result in his death.
The Dark Lord Mary Sue
Butttt now it’s time for my biggest gripe, and probably the biggest gripe others will have: The real ‘cursed child’ of the script, Lord Voldemort’s crotch dumpling Delphi. Her backstory comes straight from a fan fiction: The secret daughter of Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange, born shortly before the Battle of Hogwarts, raised as an orphan, discovers a prophecy supposedly foretelling the Dark Lord’s resurrection and hatches a wacky time travel plot to ensure his return. This surprise isn’t particularly surprising, and her it’s not believable this nineteen-year-old would be able to fight off four adult wizards and perfect Voldemort’s flying technique.
Albus, despite his moping personality, at least feels like he belongs in the Harry Potter universe. Delphi’s very existence defies characterization of her father and shoehorns in unlikely retcons to justify it. Lord Voldemort had no capacity for love, and most of the time he seemed outright asexual. It’s completely believable that Bellatrix would have wanted the Dark Lord’s ‘D,’ but Voldemort seems like he’d he decline reproducing to keep his father’s Muggle blood from spreading.
The entire final confrontation with Delphi seemed like one of J.K. Rowling’s daughters hijacked the computer when she was in the bathroom and tried to give her incredibly powerful dark princess original character as much screentime as she could before her mother took the computer back. Just try to say the words “Voldemort’s secret daughter” out loud without rolling your eyes or experiencing PTSD from FanFiction.net. She thankfully gets a satisfying sentence to Azkaban, so who knows, maybe she was just a refutation of villain Mary Sue protagonists.
Ready the Canons
It is more than very likely that judging this new installment in the saga based on just the script is a disservice and I’d appreciate it more in its intended stage presentation. Well, duh. Plays do not have the luxury of meandering with details like a novel can. Yet not even the addictive prose of the seven novels could redeem Albus’s whining or Delphi the Dark Sue. Some fans have already disowned the story as non-canon, but I think I love Scorpius too much to excise it all plus it’s nice knowing what the original cast was up to since the novels ended.
Was I disappointed? Yes. Do I regret reading it? No. Would I see it on stage if I had the opportunity? Oh hell yes. I’m not going to assign a numerical score because just reading a script is not how Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was intended to be experienced, but as it is, I couldn’t rate it too highly but also not completely poopoo it either. It’s a quick, enjoyable read and fills you in on the plot until the play comes to the United States.
Wait a minute, there was no appearance or mention of Luna Lovegood. I officially give Harry Potter and the Cursed Child a zero out of ten.
Stock image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.