Back in the mid-1990s, a divorced single mum sat in a cafe finishing a story that had come to her on a train journey. Once it was completed, the manuscript was sent out to publishers and twelve of them rejected it outright. The thirteenth – Bloomsbury – decided to give the book a go and unleashed a phenomenon that not only made the author a multi-millionaire but changed the world of children’s books forever. The author was, of course, J K Rowling and the book was “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” which was published in 1997. Move forward nineteen years after seven books and eight movies, JK has moved from pure fiction to live theatre and, after much hype, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 have finally hit the stage at London’s Palace Theatre.
Nineteen years after the ‘Battle of Hogwarts’ and Harry Potter (Jamie Parker) and his wife Ginny (Poppy Miller) are at King’s Cross Station with their two sons James Jnr (Tom Milligan) and Albus Severus (Sam Clemmett) sending them off to school on the Hogwarts Express. Albus is nervous as this is his first year at school and he is afraid he won’t make any friends – even though he is going to school with his best friend and cousin, Rose (Cherrelle Skeete) daughter of Ron Weasley (Paul Thornley) and Hermione Granger-Weasley (Noma Dumezweni). Also on the train and about to enter his first year at Hogwart’s is Scorpius (Anthony Boyle), the only son of Harry’s old schoolboy enemy Draco Malfoy (Alex Price). As the train pulls away, Harry, Ron and Hermione are left hoping that their children will have a much quieter and less adventurous time at school than they did. Somehow though the Potter name drags Albus and his friend into territory their parents can only have dreamed about in their worst nightmares.
Where does one start reviewing a show that begs its audience to #KeepTheSecrets? I suppose I could at this point simply say Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 are truly awesome plays that I would recommend everyone go and see. That would be a true summation of my feelings but doesn’t even begin to cover just how amazing these plays are.
Let’s start with the writing. JK knows Harry Potter and his compatriots better than anybody alive and, together with Playwright Jack Thorne and Director John Tiffany, has come up with a story that fits perfectly with the other stories in the series. As with the other stories, there are some really deep themes in this story but the good news is, you don’t have to have read the books or seen the films to understand where exactly you are in the Potter World. The reasonably priced programme gives you a lot of information and summarises the previous books but, even if you don’t read this, you will not get lost as the show is so tightly written that even the worst muggle (that’s non-wizarding folks to you) will know what is going on all the time. All told, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 runs for just over five hours but I can honestly say, I never noticed the time going once. The story is so compelling that the end of Part 1 took me completely by surprise.
For such a huge show, the set (by Christine Jones) is surprisingly sparse, consisting mainly of some cathedral-like arches, some movable staircases and the most versatile suitcases you will ever see. Director John Tiffany uses every square inch (or centimetre) of the theatre space to bring the story to life and this really pays off. No matter where you sit in the theatre, there is something extra to see aside from the actions on the stage. There is a lot of enchanting magic in this production and Chris Fisher has to be commended for the various tricks he plays with the audience – the first of which happened in the first couple of minutes and received a massive round of applause from an amazed audience. Although we shouldn’t talk about it, the theatre itself is definitely part of the show with its marble pillars and staircases that it seems to have been designed specifically as an extension of the show – In fact, the sight of Nearly Headless Nick or Peeves the Poltergeist floating along as you take your seats would not be out of place.
Turning to the cast, I have to admire how believable they were, particularly Poppy Miller who looked and sounds like a grown-up version of Bonnie Wright (the original Ginny). But all of the adults, playing parts made famous and forever associated with others, are just right. Jamie Parker really is Harry – with all the foibles and concerns of the teenage boy now magnified along with a survivor’s sense of guilt and concerns over his parenting ability – and his vulnerability and disobedience to rules are still as charming in the man as they were in the boy. Of the new characters, Anthony Boyle as Scorpius was by far my favourite. Anthony is a natural comic, with a wicked sense of timing, who manages to make the audience really care about the son of Draco. Put together with Sam Clemmett as Albus and there is the definite makings of a truly fantastic double act when they appear together. One other thing to mention about the cast is that it is large, over 40 in fact, and when you consider the average play these days is around 90 minutes long, you have to be impressed that they have memorised all of the lines and movements required for both plays,
To sum up, I have been reviewing for a couple of years and seen just under 400 shows in that time and I can honestly say Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2 is the best thing I have seen on stage in all that time. The story is brilliant, the staging and acting superb and the entire experience is awesome from start to finish. While I’ve been writing this, I’ve been telling everyone around me to get their tickets booked so they too can experience this breathtaking, stupendous and mind-blowing production that will surely be dominating the London stage for years to come. My one regret is that we can only give a maximum of five stars to a show, this is one worthy of an entire constellation.
Review by Terry Eastham
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is one play presented in two parts. Both parts are intended to be seen in order on the same day (matinee and evening) or on two consecutive evenings. On Thursdays, there will be an evening performance of Part One and on Fridays an evening performance of Part Two. On those days tickets to each part can be bought together or separately. Tickets for Wednesday matinee and Wednesday evening performances can also be bought together or separately.
The regular performance schedule is as follows – Monday – no performance, Tuesday – no performance, Wednesday – 2pm Part One & 7.30pm Part Two, Thursday – 7.30pm Part One, Friday – 7.30pm Part Two, Saturday – 2pm Part One & 7.30pm Part Two, Sunday – 1pm Part One & 6.30pm Part Two.
Every Friday, The Friday Forty takes place at 1pm when 40 tickets are released for every performance the following week for some of the very best seats in the theatre. Subsequent ticket releases take place each Friday for performances the following week. Priced at £40 (£20 per part) tickets will secure a seat for both Part One and Part Two on consecutive performances. Customers will be selected at random for the opportunity to buy tickets online and will be able to purchase a maximum of two tickets for both Part One and Part Two in one transaction.