At first I was quite torn over whether to post a review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child or not, because everyone has been very careful to ‘keep the secrets’ regarding the play’s performance and I don’t want to be responsible for spoiling anything for anyone, but now that a gazillion people have got their hands on the book I think it’s fair game. I really want to discuss the book and there will be lots of spoilers in this review, but I don’t want to be responsible for accidentally ruining the story for someone, so please DO NOT READ THIS unless you have already read the book or watched the play. Seriously, don’t do it! Go away and read the book, then come back and read this later. Don’t spoil it for yourself, I won’t tell you again!
I was also really, really torn as to whether to read the book now or wait until I’d seen the play first, but considering the play’s currently sold out until spring 2017 I thought there was no way I’d manage to avoid spoilers for that long. Plus the book was staring me down from across the room, and have I mentioned it’s beautiful? Because it really is beautiful. I consulted with some friends who’ve already seen the play, and they agreed that it wouldn’t matter if I already knew the story by the time I watched the play, because it’s the staging and the performance of it that makes it so special (and which I can’t inadvertently spoil for myself!).
If you’ve visited my blog before, you’ll know that I have quite a love affair with Harry Potter. In 2014 I had a Harry Potter week, during which I read all of the books and watched all of the films, and it was AMAZING! (I definitely need to do it again sometime). I grew up with Harry Potter; it is my childhood. My teacher read us the first two books when I was nine or ten, and then I bought and read every other book as soon as it came out. When the last book came out, I was seventeen and Harry, Ron and Hermione were seventeen. We grew up together, and I just can’t explain what it was like to have to wait for the next instalment in the series every year. I will always adore absolutely everything about Harry Potter and everything it represents, which is why I was actually incredibly nervous to read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
The main difference between The Cursed Child and every other Harry Potter story is that this isn’t a novelisation, it’s a script. It’s a completely different medium, which means the experience of reading it is also completely different. I’ve read a few scripts before, and I generally don’t mind reading them. It’s a much quicker experience than reading a novel of the same length, because in theory it shouldn’t take any longer to read than the time it’d take to actually watch the play. The thing is, there’s no filler with plays. It’s all dialogue and a few stage directions or brief scene setting snippets, but part of the joy of reading Harry Potter was to find out more about Hogwarts itself, and visualise all the strange classrooms and picture moving staircases with ghosts floating through walls and portrait subjects popping into each other’s paintings for a chat. You don’t get any of this with a script. If anything, the script is just one half of the play. The rest depends on the performance and the scenery and the staging, which is just the nature of plays, but which does mean that the script feels a bit sparse in comparison with the rest of Harry’s world.
Another aspect which I found a bit tricky to get to grips with was the progression of time. The play begins at the same time as the epilogue to The Deathly Hallows, nineteen years after the main events of The Deathly Hallows took place, but then very quickly spans another four or five years. Both I and Harry were seventeen when The Deathly Hallows concluded. We’d aged alongside each other (yes I know he’s not real, but this is the only way I can really describe it), but now I’m twenty six and Harry is suddenly thirty six, very quickly turning forty. They’ve all become spouses and parents, but I feel almost as if I’ve been left behind, and that’s put some distance between us. I found it quite hard to relate to any of Harry, Ron and Hermione in the same way that I relate to them in the novels. It doesn’t matter that I’m now older than they were in the books because I still have those memories, but I think it does matter that I’m now younger than they are in The Cursed Child because I have no connections with the married, parental lives they’re depicting.
However, it’s not just the age difference which is a bit troublesome for me. The younger generation are still very much present in Albus and Scorpius, but I feel like I don’t have the same relationship with those characters because I didn’t grow up with them and I haven’t been watching them develop and mature over thousands of pages of novels. (Again, I know they’re not real, but these books and characters were such a huge part of my childhood that I really don’t know how else to describe the way I feel about them). Plus the nature of the plot means that there’s (quite literally) a lot of jumping about in time, with characters appearing in different guises and different places simultaneously, and I found it rather hard to keep track of what was happening when and what the consequences were. It all got rather complicated (and I suspect there were a few plot holes left hanging open in the process of this too!)
In terms of the plot itself, it didn’t quite live up to the standards of the novels for me. It was an interesting concept, and I really wasn’t expecting the big reveal about Delphi, but to throw in a secret Voldychild did strike me as a bit fanfictionish. It just seemed too far-fetched and unbelievable to me. I know Voldemort got his body back, but was he really human enough to be doing the dirty with Bellatrix? I’m not convinced. I’m also not sure about the characterisation of some of the characters. I know we only really have their dialogue to go on in a script, but I’m just putting this out there – it was pretty sentimental. Snape was all wrong for me (and while I’m glad he makes an appearance, I’m not sure how any actor could portray him after the wonderful Alan Rickman). I could just about accept Draco although he was really verging on the overly-sentimental side, and Dumbledore cried far more than he ever would. Also, Ron seems to have regressed into a bit of a buffoon. I can appreciate him being the comic relief, but I don’t think it has to be at the expense of his characterisation.
I’m aware that all of this sounds like I didn’t enjoy The Cursed Child very much, but that is not true in the slightest. It’s difficult because my inclination is always going to be to compare it to the rest of the canon, but it’s a completely different medium and so this isn’t really fair. I will always enjoy a novel more than a script, and so The Cursed Child is always going to fall down in this regard. I just feel that I get a greater sense of the characters and their world from a novel, whereas I’m only given snippets from a script. But I haven’t properly experienced The Cursed Child yet. You can’t read a script and consider that the same as knowing a play. As my lovely friend Helen said, ‘the story is OK but the show is amazing because of the way it’s done on stage. The magic is magical!’ and that’s what I can’t wait for! I want to see how they show magic, I want to see a bookshelf trying to eat characters who are busy transforming back into other characters, I want to see how they represent the time turner and travelling through time, I want to see characters dueling and flinging themselves through the air and I want to see Hogwarts in all its glory, and the sorting hat as a person, and a spikey trolley witch walking along the top of the Hogwarts Express! There’s so many scenes where I just can’t even imagine how they’d manage to represent what happens on stage, and that’s so thrilling because I know I’ll be completely awestruck when I do eventually see it. And some of the dialogue might be sappy and out of character, but it might be delivered in a way that’s funny or insightful or sarcastic and completely IN character! There are so many possibilities for the script to be adapted for the stage that I feel like I don’t *know* the story, even though I’ve just read it. All I’ve experienced is the most basic flavour of it, which is why it’s so hard to even form a real opinion of The Cursed Child yet, and why it’s probably unfair of me to try.
It took me under three hours to read the script, whereas it takes me a day to read each of the later four novels, so already the script’s going to be pushed for time in terms of what can be crammed in. If you think just how much was cut out of the novels to make the films, essentially the script could have the same amount of stuff missing, it’s just stuff that we’ll never see – descriptions and scene setting and non-dialogue based character development. Really, it’s no surprise that The Cursed Child is currently feeling ‘less’ for me, but I’m sure once I’ve seen the play it’ll happily match the rest of the series. The only downside is that watching the play won’t be a lasting experience. I can’t rewatch it like I’d rewatch the films, I’ll just have the bare bones of the script to return to. And it does feel like bare bones to me at the moment, but again, that’s what a script is. It’s a completely different medium, so I can’t keep thinking of it in the same way as the novels.
It’s a shame that we don’t get to see more of Lily and James Junior, and poor Hugo never even appears as far as I can recall, but I can’t end without taking a few moments to reflect on the real main characters of the play. I quite like the relationship between Albus and Harry, especially as Albus reminds me quite a lot of Harry in The Order of the Phoenix – very stroppy, very angsty, very bitter, and generally very emotionally charged. (It’s one of the reasons OotP is my favourite Harry Potter book). It’s quite fascinating to watch their relationship play out because they are so alike in a way, even if Albus did end up in Slytherin (which I could totally see coming). I quite enjoyed reading about Albus (even though he’s so bitchy and I wanted to give both him and Harry a shake and tell them to sort themselves out), but Scorpius was by far and away my favourite. I knew he would be, I knew just from reading the epilogue that Scorpius would be one of the most interesting of the next generation. I have so much love for him, it’s endearing to see a Malfoy being so sweet! The juxtaposition between him and his family history is so intriguing, and it gave Draco a reason to be a bit more human and a bit more well-rounded. I really didn’t like how open he was about his loneliness and his upbringing to Harry though. I can’t see them ever being ‘friends’ as such, and I’m sure Draco would always be too proud to play the ‘woe is me’ card and tell everyone how miserable he was as a child, and that’s part of the dialogue that really didn’t sit well with me. I don’t believe that Draco would ever come out and say that, especially to Harry of all people, but I guess it’s hard to show that side of his character when the only tools at your disposal are dialogue.
I think it’s an interesting question, but it’s also worth remembering that some elements of the script (and hopefully some of the dialogue!) will have been altered during the preview showings, and that the script as I have it now may not be an entirely accurate transcription of the play currently being performed. To that, all I can say is that I’ll let you know, when I eventually manage to acquire tickets. I’m so desperate to see the performance! I’m viewing the script of The Cursed Child as a teaser – a trailer, if you will, to the main event. And even if nothing’s been altered and the script is word for word, I’m sure I’ll be completely sold on the whole performance and totally overjoyed to see it all come together as the most magical Harry Potter experience yet!
See also J.K. Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy or read Book Vs. Film Reviews of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.