The Theatreguide.London Review
Potter And The Cursed Child, Parts One and Two
Palace Theatre 2016 -
Fans will be delighted, non-fans sufficiently entertained for at least half the length, and the unstoppable Harry Potter machine carries on.
Based on a plot line developed by J K Rowling, Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, Thorne wrote this addition to the Potter story as two full-length plays totalling over five hours (and requiring two full-price tickets).
Disclaimer: I read the first three books and saw bits and pieces of the films as I surfed past them on TV. I know the broad outlines of the saga but have never been as caught up in it as many in the audience, and indeed the world.
My outsider's impression is that there is material and theatrical inventiveness here for what might have been one really thrilling evening's theatre, stretched too thin for two.
We are nineteen years after the last book and film. The approaching-middle-age Harry is a bureaucrat in the Ministry of Magic, Hermione (I'm going to have to assume you know all these people – if you don't, there's a good summary of the books and films in the program) is his boss, and Ron runs a joke and novelty shop.
Harry is seeing his younger son Albus off to Hogwarts, as is Draco Malloy with his son Scorpius.
It is not easy being the son of a famous or infamous father, and it is not easy being a father accustomed to solving problems but unable to help your unhappy son. And need for both fathers and sons to find their way to each other makes for a satisfying and sometimes very moving emotional backbone to the drama.
Meanwhile – and I must be deliberately vague here – the two unhappy boys become friends and decide to resolve one of the loose ends left over from Harry's adventures.
But their well-meaning attempts make things a whole lot worse – Part One's cliff-hanger ending has things about as terrible as they could possibly be – before the two generations and the old adversaries have to combine forces to make things better.
Along the way there are opportunities for some impressive stage magic and spectacle, lots of in-jokes and references for the fans, the truly involving fathers-and-sons story, and not quite enough plot for two nights at the theatre.
Part Two is decidedly the weaker, largely because the writers resolve most of the plot complications and seem to run out of story midway through the first act, and have to begin a whole new plot line to limp through the last two hours.
It is the boys' adventure that is likely to hold you, thanks to very sensitive and sympathetic performances by Sam Clemmett as Albus and Anthony Boyle as Scorpius. In comparison, Jamie Parker's Harry is rather stiff and hard to care about, even when he is suffering over his son's unhappiness.
Noma Dumezweni's Hermione is attractively crisp and forceful, but Esther Smith is stuck in a key role that changes personalities too frequently for the actress to keep her believable.
Director John Tiffany keeps things moving smoothly until they begin to bog down in the last hour or so, aided significantly by Movement Director Steven Hoggett, who turns every scene change into a choreographed whirl of magical gowns and capes, and by a list of technicians and support staff long enough for a modest film.
Will Potter fans be happy? I have no doubt, though it will be their love for the material that carries them over some of the script's low-energy stretches.
And there are enough loose ends left after the five-plus hours for the comic books, TV series, graphic novels or wherever else J K Rowling and Potter Industries choose to take the ageing boy wizard next.
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