By James Walsh
How magical was the new Harry Potter play for longstanding Potter fans? Our theatre critic, Michael Billington, enjoyed the play but was lost to some of the plot’s intricacies at times. “If you’ve read the books, you’ll get more out of the play,” explained his 11-year-old grandson.
So we asked our readers lucky enough to have already seen the play to let us know what they thought. Below are five reviews from fans of the original books and films.
Spoiler alert: major plot points are discussed below, so if you’d rather not know about certain aspects of the play, tread carefully.
‘It was a pleasure seeing it with an audience of fans’
The good stuff: the production is amazing, simply one of the best theatrical events I have ever experienced, it uses the whole theatre and it is a must see.
But the script needs a good edit. Some scenes and characters (Hagrid being one of them) aren’t necessary. For me, it doesn’t work as a Harry Potter story. The big reveal I found a little bit cringey and I feel it could have been more subtle.
That isn’t to say it’s not a good play. It’s very funny and sentimental, and was a pleasure to see it with an audience of fans. The effects are incredible and I’m still working out how they did some of them.
Jamie Parker’s performance as Harry was my favourite thing about the whole play. Although Ron is very funny, he felt a bit like a comedic device rather than an essential part to the play.
Hermione wasn’t quite right for me, I felt that some of the pacing and bossiness had gone - but maybe that’s older Hermione. Everyone respected the interpretations of the film actors choices without doing impressions of them, although Hagrid was a bit of an embarrassment.
Rating: four stars out of five
Hetty, Optical Assistant, Portsmouth
‘The stage magic left me gawping’
The play itself is an experience, and those who didn’t particularly pay attention to the series of books and films will probably enjoy it, if not fully appreciate the character development. The stage magic is wonderful, and left me gawping. The music, if not always hitting the right spot for me, is lovely and gentle when it needs to be, and strikes fear when necessary too.
The actors made me feel at home immediately. To see Harry, Ron and Hermione portrayed so vividly and deeply was convincing, and they seem to understand the characters so well.
I had some issues with the plot, and still feel unsettled about calling it a true eighth story in the series, as it doesn’t fit the depth to which J.K. Rowling developed the books. The characters don’t act according to their past actions, and sometimes their intentions and behaviour ring false when compared with their book counterparts. I was a little disappointed when clichéd and fanfiction-like touches came up.
Rating: three and a half stars out of five
Marie Smith, Architectural Assistant, London
‘I felt like I was being told that magic wasn’t real after all’
Growing up queer I often found solace in both the books as well as the fan community around them. Harry Potter helped me to see that otherness can be celebrated. While we never got to see any queer kids at Hogwarts - in the books, Dumbledore being gay was sub-textual at best, and he went on to live a life without romantic fulfilment anyway - the theme of otherness was always there.
Words can’t describe how delighted I was to see Albus’ and Scorpius’ relationship gently developing from friendship to something more, without the narrative making a plot point or a problem about their sexualities, making it incidental rather than focusing on it. The stage came to life when the two characters were on it together. Finally, finally I could see kids like me at Hogwarts. By the end of the first part I was in tears.
The characters long for each other in opposite staircases in an extended pining montage. Scorpius tells Albus that if he had to pick one person to get lost in time with, he’s choose him. Albus tells Scorpius he makes him stronger. They are explicitly compared to Snape and Lily.
So when the big turnaround happened during the final five minutes, I felt like I was being told that magic wasn’t real, after all.
What a let-down it was, after five lovely hours. I was surprised that the writers would choose to include all the near-romantic interactions and then bring in an another love interest in right at the very last minute to make it very clear that the chemistry between the two main characters was meant to be read as purely platonic.
The relationship between Albus and Scorpius would have been the perfect chance to include the first queer couple in the canon, and I find it heartbreaking that they chose not to go there, denying queer readers a chance to see themselves represented in the wizarding world.
‘The wizarding world was perfectly transferred to the small stage’
The original novels are first and foremost a story about friendship. It only matters who you are, not what you are supposed to be born into. With friends by your side you can overcome all obstacles, pass the tests that life has put up for you. And Harry Potter And The Cursed Child follows this hugely important theme to perfection.
The bond between Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, the teenage sons of the Hogwarts antagonists in the book series, is very strong - stronger than that of Harry Potter and Ron Weasley has ever been. If you want you can even see more than just friendship between the two, but you don’t have to. It doesn’t matter in the end, as it shouldn’t.
Scorpius and Albus, both outcasts like Harry and Ron, but in a different way, go on an epic adventure that is no less thrilling than Harry Potter’s journey some 25 years ago. But in a beautiful twist it is Scorpius, not Albus, whose fate is most similar to that of young Harry. He is the lonely, exiled boy with rumours about Voldemort surrounding him, and also the genuinely kind, brave and loyal hero leading the story.
The wizarding world was just perfectly transferred to the small stage with excellent set and costume designs and masterful lighting effects, especially with the appearance of the terrifying dementors.
The story itself is maybe a tad too predictable for die-hard Harry Potter fans, and my only real quirk is the use of Time-Turners in a way that they were not intended to work in my understanding of the HP universe.
But I was willing to accept that as the most important theme of the books - friendship - was so beautifully captured here that my conviction for now more than 15 years, that if even more people would read those stories and learn from them, the world would be a better place, was fully recharged and I left the theatre with a stronger heart.
Rating: five stars out of five
Rames El Desouki, Publisher, Germany
‘The stage was the perfect medium for the story’
I saw the play in its second week. It is fantastic - beautifully portrayed, amazing stage presence, and real magic. The story was excellently put together and a fantastic collaborative exercise - although, at points, it did feel the play conflicted with parts of the book (and - spoiler alert! - an age-old paradox). The stage was the perfect medium for the story, and putting it into two parts was the right decision.
Although I had grown up accustomed to Radcliffe-Watson-Grint, the grown up characters were different characters in themselves. The play’s trio were a wonderful cast, who did more than justice for Rowling’s teenagers. The furore over Noma was completely unqualified - and anyone doubting her ability will be hard-pressed to criticise her performance if they see the play.
Rating: five stars out of five
James P, Journalist, London
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