The magical world that played such a big part in so many of our childhoods made its entrance into the West End in 2016 in the theatrical adaptation of the spell-binding sequel, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It will be returning in May 2021 as the West End comes back to life.
The story takes place 19 years after the end of the novel and movie Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and the audience is reintroduced to Harry as a middle-aged man as his son Albus Severus Potter, 11-years old, is about to start at Hogwarts. The familiar characters Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Ginny Wesley, Draco Malfoy and Professor McGonagall also make appearances, albeit in a very different manner to when we saw them last. At first this is somewhat discomforting; a reminder that we, like the characters, have aged and changed drastically since the last time we met each other. However, beyond feeling slightly older, returning to characters and a universe we know and love is a welcome escape from our adult lives. The two-part structure of the play allows for the plot to be fully explored and fleshed out, and certainly doesn’t leave audiences feeling unfulfilled. I would, however, recommend seeing the parts on consecutive days rather than in one go as the length, special effects and plot can be somewhat overwhelming, and if you’re anything like me, you love to take time to analyse the shows you see.
As a self-proclaimed fan of the books and the movies, I was apprehensive to see the show, and it took me until 2019 to do so. I remember flicking through the book in Waterstones one afternoon, and not being overly impressed or feeling inclined to buy it, but I think the play should be seen with fresh eyes, as it completely surpassed my expectations which were admittedly not particularly high. Harry Potter fans were divided on the show: some were enthusiastic to be back in the Wizarding World, while others felt that the original books and movies should have remained untouched. Whilst nothing will compare to the feeling you have when either reading or watching the originals for the first time, I felt that the show was an excellent story in and of itself. It didn’t try too hard to be an exact copy of the originals, but still kept faithful to certain plot points and characteristics that Potter fans are so familiar with. I enjoyed some of the new characters, including Scorpius Malfoy who had excellent comedic timing and had a humorous – yet genuine and emotional – relationship with Albus Potter. There was a good mixture of comedic versus poignant moments, although admittedly these were not as heart-wrenching as those of the originals.
The show won numerous accolades, including WhatsOnStage, Olivier and Tony awards, and Best West End Show in 2018. These were well deserved for such an astounding spectacle. My only complaint lies in the logistics of the theatre. The Palace Theatre is very large, meaning those sitting at the back of the Grand Circle have an awkward view of the stage, which seems miles away. There is also little legroom, and it is particularly cold. However, I was still willing to take my seat for over 4 hours across two days, because the truth is, as with any good show, I forgot about such trivial things and became fully immersed in the play.
The set design of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and the play’s enchanting special effects make for a unique experience. There are clever theatrics which cause many a double take, a fitting representation of the Potter universe on a real stage (not to give too much away, but the Dementors are so accurately depicted that they elicited genuine fear in me for a few seconds). I’d suggest that is the real strength of this play: the ability to transport you to another world, and make you forget about our muggle reality. It will be one of the first shows I revisit after lockdown, when theatres finally reopen.