Whilst critics are battling with the decision of how much to reveal about this year's most anticipated theatre event, I understand as a keen enthusiast of the novels and the story of the Boy Who Lived, that JK Rowling’s plea to #KeepTheSecrets has been at the very heart of plot since its conception. When the first book was released in 1997, readers worldwide embarked on a journey which led us to understand the nature of trust, friendship and protection on such a level that with each subsequent release, we waited for our peers to finish reading before we discussed. In short, true fans of Rowling's work have been keeping the pact for years. Additionally, reviewing this particular event is hardly serving the purpose we usually write for. The Cursed Child does not need the marketing - it's already sold out until after Easter next year. Nor does the release of the script, coinciding with the gala performance this weekend need any assistance. It is more than reasonable therefore to respect the wishes of the authors and producers, and keep as much as possible under wraps.
It is with this attitude that I walked through the doors of the Palace Theatre yesterday, going in blind thanks to the consideration of my circle of friends. Thankfully I was able to keep my inner exuberance for the most part intact…at least until Part 1 began.
At just shy of five and a half hours of script, seen either as matinee and evening performance on one day, or as separate performances over consecutive nights; one might easily worry about an overload. Jack Thorne has clearly understood through his collaboration with Rowling, exactly how to structure the material and in such a way as to add just the right amount of light and shade to keep the audience engaged. At no point does one feel bogged down with detail (though the script is filled with substance); themes are addressed in a poignant and relatable manner, and the diverse personalities of Rowling's characters continue to inject both humour and pathos at every twist and turn. It's has been made public that the story picks up 19 years after the conclusion of The Deathly Hallows; that the Potters and Weasley-Grangers now have children of their own and we are facing a whole new generation. The beauty of this stage adaptation is the attention paid to who the central characters would be as adults; It's genuinely heart-warming to see the Ron know and love has not been diminished over time. The nuisances of their characters remain, and when combined with the qualities they have developed in adulthood, allow for some wonderfully detailed characterisation.
The original central characters from Rowling’s novel are so well established that although this story focuses on Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, (the sons of Harry and his rival from his school days) it is impossible not to acknowledge the performances of the “originals” before progressing to the next generation. Jamie Parker steps does a sterling job of carrying the pure heart of Harry into adulthood. There are wonderful moments of childlike mischief interwoven with the challenge of being a father, and the most loved and respected wizard of his generation. In the role of father to Albus, his performance is touching and layered with real depth as he and his son struggle to establish balance in their relationship. It is startlingly easy to believe this is the Harry we saw growing up, yet somehow this is not because Parker draws in any way on the character created by Daniel Radcliffe in the films. The entire production resonates more with a feel of the novels, which I think gives the actors greater scope to develop their characters in their own way, thus avoiding the danger of stereotyping or ‘copying’. This is a credit to Rowling's writing in that Harry, Ron and Hermione were crafted with such penmanship at their conception that whoever plays them has a tremendous amount of detailed source material from which to build their interpretation. I was guilty of considering the possible dangers of other actors taking on iconic roles, and need not have worried at all. Where there are similarities in delivery, it feels like a touching moment of nostalgia; Paul Thornley inhabits Ron Weasley beautifully, capturing his innocence and vulnerability through superb comic delivery seeming to genuinely be a boy trapped inside an adult’s body. He never needed to ‘become a man’…Hermione was there to take the reigns! Noma Dumezweni brings a real sense of grace to the once spoilt, outspoken Hermione. The inner calm and strength of the character in adulthood, in her new position in life, provides a delightful partner to Ron, and later moments of vulnerability are charming to behold due to the composure she maintains through most of the piece. Their children Albus (Sam Clemmett) and Rose (Cherrelle Skeete) are endearing, especially in the early moments of Part 1, though I felt as a role, Rose seemed somewhat under developed. Initially Clemmett’s role seemed a touch lightweight however, the journey he takes alongside his father gives weight to his performance and provides a deep contrast to the lighter humour alongside what seems to be the central relationship of the story; his unlikely friendship with Scorpius Malfoy. Anthony Boyle’s Scorpius shines with heart, comedy and torment. The differences in his behaviour towards each figure in his life; the troubled relationship with his father, the fondness between him and Albus, not to mention his teen crush give the performer a role of great range. Boyle grabs it with both hands and makes a magic of his own, delightfully funny yet at times undeniably similar to his father, Draco, excellently played by Alex Price.
The Cursed Child is a visual treat, even for adults. It is often said that the silver screen enables the creatives to ‘do more’ in terms of effects, however having witnessed this production, I assure you it simply is not the case. I'll happily admit to at least two moments of utter awe at the magnificent illusions created by Jamie Harrison, superbly enhanced by Neil Austin’s atmospheric lighting and Jeremy Chernick’s special effects. It's hard to know where the effects end and the lighting begins and once you throw in Gareth Fry’s sound design which enhances and beautifully punctuates so many moments, the seamless technical success of the production is impossible to fault. There are so many genuinely astonishing examples I could give, but out of respect to the creators, I'll let audiences experience the same impact I had. Suffice it to say a storyline involving numerous unusual characters and creatures, multiple eras and locations, not to mention an ever-present sense of magic is brought to life vividly and vibrantly before our never eyes. Almost every moment feels like a magician’s reveal!
John Tiffany’s role as director of this epic undoubtedly produced numerous challenges along the way, one of which I could not fail to notice almost instantly. How does one fill a stage known for housing large scale musicals, when the production in question is a straight play. Obviously the presence of magic has a considerable part to play, however the impact of movement director Steven Hoggett’s ‘choreography’, making use of both Christine Jones’ stunning set and Katrina Lindsay’s elegant costumes, was extraordinary. To some extent scene changes and the passing of time could be referred to as dances, and the simple concept behind Jones’ set adds as a wonderfully nostalgic feel to the many places we somehow feel familiar with.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is sure to run for many years. It is joy to have another original story from JK Rowling; just look how many audience members are dressed as their favourite characters whilst queueing for security check. Her novels wove their way into the hearts of millions almost 20 years ago and this stage adaptation serves to ensure that is where they shall remain…until the very end…