Louise’s Post-Cursed Child Review: Stage Spectacle Out-Shines the Script

Yesterday was it: a day of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, with Part 1 at 2 PM and Part 2 at 7:30. I had been eagerly anticipating this experience since the release of the published script almost 3 years ago. In general, I would say that the show fully met my expectations:  the parts I enjoyed from the script were great on stage, and the parts that made me roll my eyes at the script–I’m looking at you, bed-wetting scene, and tearful conversations with Dumbledore’s portrait— did the same thing on stage.  But, the part of the theatrical experience you can’t get from reading–the staging, the sets, the special effects–were amazing, as has been reported by theater-goers since the London premiere. That, as expected, turned the experience into something well worth the price.

More to come:  but, be forewarned.  Despite the neat #keepthesecrets button they gave me, having already read, discussed, blogged and podcasted about the script extensively, I will be discussing many show spoilers.  Please do not read beyond the jump if you do not want to know the Cursed Secrets.

Any play needs a strong cast and strong staging to succeed, and doubly so when it faces an audience that is somewhat skeptical about the merits of the script itself.  And, it is fair to say I had some issues with the script:  Cedric Diggory, Death Eater? Voldemort fathered a kid with Bellatrix? Harry is a lousy dad?  But, with a strong cast, amazing staging and a heavy dose of nostalgia, a great show can emerge, even from a precarious premise. The comparison I like to make is with my favorite of the Star Trek: The Original Series movies:  Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home. The premise is:  an unknown space probe arrives at Earth to talk  to a humpback whale. It is able to nearly destroy the the planet when this conversation does not happen.  After an elaborate time-travel adventure, a pair of whales is produced, and after a 10-sec conversation, the probe is satisfied and flies away, with no one apparently interested in what it was or where it came from. The Voyage Home because fans aren’t showing up to hear the story of the probe; they showed up to see the voyage home:  Kirk touring  the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Spock nerve-pinch a dude on a bus with an overly loud boom box, Scotty attempt to operate an Apple IIe and proud Russian Chekov get captured on a naval aircraft carrier. Similarly, a chance to re-visit the wizarding world and see the characters will love in unique settings and situations is an incredible homecoming experience, and something I, at least, am willing to overlook the shaky premise of the play itself. 

Enough of that. The cast was, in a word, superb. The most challenging parts are clearly those of Albus and Scorpius, which require 20-something actors– and as tall or taller than their parents– to convincingly play children 11-14 years old; and they did!  Though I did not see the original cast, the new adult (Harry, Ron, Ginny, Draco and Hermione) and “child” (Albus and Scorpius) casts were all quite strong. Scorpius, in particular, was hilarious in his nerdiness; it was indeed hard to picture him as Draco’s son. Many characters did strong impressions of their movie counterparts: Harry and Ginny bore an uncanny resemblance to Daniel Radcliffe and Bonnie Wright, and McGonagall was clearly playing Maggie Smith’s version of the character–not that that’s a bad thing. The surprise scene-stealer in this regard was Moaning Myrtle who, though she sounded almost exactly like Shirley Henderson, was over-the-top in her flirtatious responses to all the living males, and hysterically funny. Ginny had a lot of the sass and the spunk the character missed in the movies, so she was also a pleasure to see. Finally, Ron was the perfect comic relief — which the play needed and, since we don’t have the twins (sniff!), and given the occasional dark tone; he was a great choice for that.

As for the staging…  the word there is WOW! I was reminded of the first touring cast of Les Miserables I saw in San Francisco, with the turntable in the middle of the stage and the moving parts that were constantly being re-combined to produce different settings, including the magnificent barricade. The Cursed Child producers got a lot of mileage from a couple of moving staircases, and the original suitcases people were carrying from the opening King’s Cross scene were re-purposed multiple times. The best special effects were the kid-swallowing bookcase and the frequent arrivals of the ministry types by Floo powder in McGonagall’s office. There was a lot of flying on wires, the most impressive of which was the arrival of the dementors. There was a lot of swooshing of cloaks and making things appear and disappear that way. Spell casting was explosive with lots of light and fire effects. The time shifts were marked by a shimmering effect that still has us puzzled about how it was done. The revelation of the prophecy had people gasping in surprise. Only two elements were  a bit disappointing: 1) the underwater scene, which appeared to be just a film of the swimming actors projected on a screen, though the real onstage pool that the actors appeared and disappeared almost made up for it. 2) the trolley lady, who didn’t transform in any way other than to grow some claws, Wolverine-style, and seemed to make no effort to stop the boys escaping the train other than yell at them. I expected an exploding pumpkin pastie or two.

On to the few elements of the play that didn’t quite work for me. The first was Hermione, who, unfortunately, does not make a very convincing Minister of Magic in any timeline. I think the problem there is that, despite her intelligence, she was never a particularly strong leader; she simply does not work as a wizarding head of state. Of the major characters, she and Draco Malfoy are the most transformed from their book and movie versions, and, while we are shown a reason for Draco’s transformation– the love and loss of his wife, Astoria Greengrass– we have no clear reason why Hermione seems to be a completely different character.  The second is, the Sorting Hat, who is played by a nameless person in a brown muggle suit who also pops up at various points in the play to remind us of the boarder between our world and the magical one: he casts the spells to conceal Platform 9 3/4 from muggles, and starts the snow in Godric’s Hollow. But the hat itself is… a brown derby.  For a play that sticks quite closely to the world of the books– remembering details like Ginny calling Tom Riddle’s diary her best friend, for instance– to forget that the sorting hat is an ancient wizard’s hat that once belongs to Gryffindor himself, is decidedly odd. Third, the Snape in this version was not particularly impressive. He seemed too quick to believe Scorpius’s story, too friendly with Ron and Hermione and too sentimental about Albus Severus bearing his name. The pacing for that entire part of the show seemed a bit rushed. I would liked to have seen a bit more Rickman-style stoicism there.

Finally, my husband and traveling companion, who has read the books and seen the movies but who is nowhere near the superfan I am, shared my opinion that the play really needed an in-the-flesh Neville, as many times as he was mentioned.  But, overall, those were minor quibbles, compared to an overall wonderful experience. If you have a chance to see the play. go!

Tomorrow, I’ll explain a bit about the theater decor, and how that enhanced the overall experience.


  1. Kelly Loomis says

    Having seen the original cast earlier this year, I think I can agree with much of your review. One thing I would disagree with however was the audience being skeptical going into it. Most of the people I waited in line with or sat around did not even seem to have read the script, let alone be skeptical about it. Gasps at certain reveals were evidence of most not knowing the story beforehand.

    You haven’t touched on the decor and theater yet, but the whole experience from reminder and informational emails, to the directions and orderliness in the line outside the theater, to the “feels” you had walking around the lobby areas were all part of an enhanced theater experience. It was all “top notch”. Having a designated person to take photos with your own phones with the house banners contributed to the excitement before even getting to one’s seat. (But I’m sure you’ll cover more of the theater’s lobby experience in your next post).

    If I had issues with the script beforehand but decided I wanted to see it and experience it live due to many people loving it. In person, the story goes very quickly and with the staging and special effects, an audience member doesn’t have as much time to ponder over those issues as when reading the script. You get caught up in the majesty of it all.

    I agree with your assessment of Hermione’s character. She would have been better as the right hand woman of another Minister for Magic – doing research and applying her brain to problems but not necessarily leading others and being the face of the ministry. I may be in the minority here – and Hermione COULD have been black by the book description – but it was hard for me to picture her that way after 8 films of Emma Watson. Having the actress outside smoking by the stage door before both performances took a little away from her also (although that is a very opinionated stance I know).

    I would also have liked seeing Neville – especially as a professor and maybe drinking with Ron at the pub.

    Otherwise, thoughts on the cast were that they were superb. I enjoyed Ginny especially as she was given more of the strength we saw in the books and was a perfect partner for Harry. Much of Harry’s issues were very understandable and as a parent I cringe at some of my past mistakes.

  2. Yes, Louise, all well and good, glad you loved the play…

    But what did you choose to drink?

    I’m almost convinced I should go (and I will when the road show comes to Oklahoma City, I promise), but I’m curious to hear about the refreshments on offer in NYC.

  3. Louise Freeman says


    See next post!

  4. Ah, a frose! Yum.

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