It was with mixed emotions that I awaited my pre-ordered copy of Jack Thorne and John Tiffany’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2, the script of the play based on a story by J.K. Rowling. On the one hand, more Harry Potter in book form! On the other hand, it’s not actually written by J.K. Rowling–how would these…interlopers…handle my beloved world and characters? The only way to find out would be by reading.
Harry Potter and the Curse Child Parts 1 & 2, currently playing to rave reviews in London, picks up where The Deathly Hallows leaves off: at King’s Cross Station as Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione, and Draco and his wife all see their children off to Hogwarts. Harry’s second son, Albus, is nervous about everything and immediately strikes up a friendship with Scorpius Malfoy, and both end up being sorted into Slytherin. Over the next few years, Albus deals with being in Slytherin, the pressure of being Harry Potter’s son, and their fraying relationship, while Scorpius grieves the death of his mother, combats rumors that he is actually Voldemort’s son, and generally struggles being a Hufflepuff trapped in a Slytherin family (at least, that’s my theory). One break, Amos Diggory shows up at the Potter household demanding that Harry use a recently confiscated time-turner to go back in time and bring back his son, Cedric (who died instead of Harry in the Goblet of Fire, natch). Harry refuses, and Albus convinces Scorpius to help him steal the time-turner and do what Harry will not with the help of Amos’ cheerful nurse, Delphi. Hijinks and real danger ensue, including a break-in at the Ministry of Magic, where Hermione is now Minister of Magic and Harry is head of the Aurors; the adults chasing the teenagers through time; and mistakes made that drastically change the present and future for the worse.
Sounds cool, huh? And I bet Rowling’s story is great! And I wish that she had just written another book. You see, the play is…just awful. Like truly terrible. Like my heart just continuously sank further and further until by the end of the play, it was in my toes, broken into pieces. Ok, maybe not that bad, but it’s not good. I’d put it about at the level of mediocre fan fiction. There are so many things that I could point to, but I will highlight just a few.
- The play’s authors do not understand Rowling’s characters and how to write them. Albus and Scorpius should be about 14 or 15 for most of the play, and yet they read like 8 year olds. It is very difficult to buy them as characters in Rowling’s world let alone as complete, nuanced teenagers. And then there are the adults. Harry, Hermione, and Ginny are all fine, if a little generic, but Ron. Poor Ron. He doesn’t deserve this. Thorne and Tiffany turn Ron into a joking buffoon. Say what you will about Ron: he may not have Hermione’s book smarts or Harry’s finesse, but Ron has magic street smarts, heart, and humanity, and he is no buffoon. My dearest hope is that the actors who play him have a better understanding than the playwrights did.
- Several scenes in the play come directly from the novels, yet the playwrights feel the need to invent dialogue that is not in the novels. Well, the scenes are from a different perspective, so that’s expected, right? What I’m talking about is dialogue that takes place in both the play and the novels. Case in point: Ludo Bagman’s Tri-Wizard Tournament commentary is pretty clear in most of Goblet of Fire. There is no need to change any of that dialogue, but the playwrights do, taking Bagman from a full-formed character to a cartoon. It does not add anything and, in fact, detracts from what already existed. J.K. Rowling signed off on this play; I’m sure she would have been fine with them using her words.
- The big “twist” is telegraphed from early in the play. There is virtually no surprise when you find out what it is because anyone with a pulse could have guessed it from shortly into the first act. That’s just sloppy structure.
Overall, the playwrights miss the heart of the world of Harry Potter. Characters are thin caricatures of themselves from the novels, and it feels like Thorne and Tiffany are mimicking Rowling without actually understanding what made her, her characters, and her world great. I have been hearing, from professional reviewers and friends who have seen it, that the play is spectacular. And I can see that. If you have the right people in the roles, the right production design (absolutely crucial based on the quality of the script), and the right director, this play could be the Wizarding World come to life for a few hours. But that in itself is a problem. For a play to be truly good, it should stand on its own merits as literature. Think Angels in America, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Macbeth, etc. You get the point. Unfortunately this play does not. It just falls so sadly short. So if you are a Harry Potter completist, read the play. If you are a completist with the ability to fly to London, see the play instead. If you have a more casual relationship with Harry Potter, don’t bother. You can Wikipedia the plot, if you really want to know.