So, the question is, how does one review something that one feels like they’ve been awaiting their entire life? Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – the brainchild of Jack Thorne, based on a story by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany – is part eight of the seven-book Harry Potter series, that anybody born in the 90s (like me) likely grew up reading and adoring. The films – split into eight instead of seven – are bringing in new fans all the time during this screenager era, although many of the films don’t hold a candle to the original books (cough, cough, Goblet of Fire).
So, obviously, Harry Potter and his buddies Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger mean a lot to me, and given the total awestruck silence across the Princess Theatre during all five-and-a-bit hours of the Melbourne-exclusive Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (split across Parts One and Two, in separate performances), they mean a lot to everyone else, as well.
The Princess Theatre, in Melbourne’s East End theatre district (a stunning partner, along with London’s Palace Theatre and the Lyric Theatre Broadway, to form the current exclusive triptych of theatres housing the show), is the home of all things Cursed Child for the next two years, at the very very least. The facade of the theatre is decked in signs and flags, serving to both promote the show and give the audience a little taste of the iconic house sigil redesigns. To remind us of the 19 years that have passed between Harry’s final year at Hogwarts and the start of Cursed Child, these new sigils are also displayed prominently inside the theatre and during the performance.
Cursed Child truly brings the capital-m Magic of Harry Potter to life. Reviewers have been requested to stay light on details and avoid spoilers altogether – #KeepTheSecrets – which makes it difficult to highlight exactly which scenes are the most magical. Sure, there are sparkling moments of spellcasting brilliance, specifically the practical effects highlighted in a scene between [REDACTED] and [REDACTED], and awe-inspiring discoveries and plot twists, like when [REDACTED] unearths the [REDACTED] late in Part 2. But just writing about it wouldn’t do it justice, and would probably end with me in a fun little detention facility starting with A, with only Dementors for company.
So instead, all we can talk about is how it feels. And Cursed Child? It feels good. From the very opening moments the audience feel totally transported, and it’s extremely easy to forget that the Princess Theatre holds 1500-odd other people. Instead, just as all book readers and film fans have done in the past, every person in the theatre is drawn right into the action – delighted to stand again alongside the Golden Trio, their children, and innumerable other cameo and major characters.
The spectacle of Cursed Child starts immediately, drawing the audience from the muggy Australian summer into the blustery British wizarding world, where students and adults alike are clad in beautifully designed flowing cloaks. These cloaks, by costume designer Katrina Lindsay, are masterfully used to disguise set transitions and prop movements, but also as accompaniments to a number of dance pieces. These dance moments, performed to music composed and arranged by Grammy award winner Imogen Heap, and stunningly choreographed by movement director Steven Hoggett, serve to elevate Cursed Child to another level. Heap’s music, ethereal and reminiscent of a world slightly outside our own, spectacularly deepens all emotion throughout the rest of the performance when combined with the smooth flow of Lindsay’s costume design and the fluidity of Hoggett’s choreography.
There are what feels like a million others who are also responsible for the behind the scenes production in the show, far too many to highlight individually. Jamie Harrison, designer for the practical magical effects, brings spells to life that have to be seen to be believed. Most beautifully, Harrison has conceived one particular spell in a dramatic and touching scene where… well, you’ll have to see it, and bring your tissues when you do. The moving staircases of Hogwarts, well-known to long time fans, were brought to life perfectly by set designer Christine Jones, and all of the tight choreography and flowing movement ensured that Hogwarts – and all other locations – were living, breathing spaces, complimented by performers instead of being overshadowed.
Delightfully, the titular Cursed Child could be anyone, which gives it a total immunity to spoilers. Could it be Harry, still struck by guilt over those who fell to Voldemort in his name when he was a child? Perhaps Albus Severus Potter, Harry’s son, a lost boy who feels like he can’t live up to the name of his father. Maybe even Scorpius Malfoy, Draco’s son, his entire being haunted severely by a rumour about his true parentage spread throughout the wizarding world. Or, possibly, it could be one of numerous other characters, whose names must be kept secret and safe, to keep the mystery alive.
Each member of the cast – whether they are or are not the Cursed Child themselves – brings a new energy to their character, regardless of their history. Harry (Gareth Reeves) and his friends are familiar, of course, but Reeves brings a fresh eye to The Boy Who Lived, as well as a deep darkness that has not been found in any previous Potter incarnation. Hermione (Paula Arundell) is as upright and intellectual as ever, yet there is a soft edge of sweetness between her and Ron (Gyton Grantley) as, of course, they were married in the epilogue of Book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Ginny (Lucy Goleby), no longer a Weasley but a Potter – also as of the epilogue of Book 7 – is suitably fierce and fiery under a kind, calm exterior, a personality she was forced to develop after growing up with six older brothers. Sean Rees-Wemyss, as Albus Severus Potter, is a delight to watch onstage. So unlike his father at the start, yet through his own choices (and some occasionally unfortunate circumstances), he grows more and more like Harry over time, whether he wants it or not.
However it is William McKenna, as Scorpius Malfoy, that is the standout performer in this production of Cursed Child. For his professional theatre debut, McKenna is an absolute master of his craft and his character, and brings a delightful brightness to the extremely awkward Scorpius. There was not one moment of his performance that didn’t captivate the audience, nor did any one of his comedic moments fall flat, instead drawing bubbles of laughter from the adoring crowd.
The deep, abiding friendship between Albus and Scorpius is the true magic of the show. Putting aside the actual magic and the fight against evil, Cursed Child is at its heart a story of friendship and love, as all Harry Potter stories have been. Certainly, Harry, Ron, and Hermione are important, but they have had their time, seven books of it, in fact. Cursed by their parents’ names and histories with each other, Albus and Scorpius defy their intended rivalry and remain determined to be fast friends. Some moments between Rees-Wemyss and McKenna are so touching or pivotal that unavoidable gasps were drawn from the crowd, which speaks to their comfort with each other as performers, as well as their broad knowledge and understanding of their characters. Truly sensational to watch.
For audience members who have grown up with Harry and all his friends, Cursed Child will be like a dream. There are differences, of course, the choice to cast Hermione as an actor of colour in each global performance drew ire at the time of the first showings on the West End, but now it’s such an intrinsic part of the performance that it comes as no surprise – Rowling herself has noted that she never mentioned Hermione’s race in the books, so there is no reason she cannot be non-white. (And of course, with the huge international success and influence of Hamilton, non traditional casting has become a welcome hallmark over the taboo that it may have once been.) But then, there are obvious similarities as well, and callbacks to deeper moments within the lore of the wizarding world that will make any huge fan smile.
For less experienced viewers, it may be difficult to follow the story, at least in part. The program contains a brief summary of all seven books, as well as a glossary of important terms and characters, but without an emotional connection and a healthy dose of nostalgia, some moments may be lost. Regardless, Cursed Child is a truly stunning spectacle of theatre. For those who like deep character moments, there are a million to be found. For those who like grand moments of passion, there are a million more. For those who like comedy, tragedy, angst, or bliss, it can all be found here.
And for those who like Harry Potter, well, there is honestly no better show to see. Half love letter, half deeply respectful homage, and half story of magic and wonder, Cursed Child has a hundred brilliant moments for every person who deems it worthy of their time.
Not one Australian dramatic theatre production prior to Cursed Child has come close to reaching its mark, nor will any production in the foreseeable future. This production, seated firmly in Melbourne, will be one for the record books.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is now playing at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne’s East End Theatre District.
For more information and tickets: https://www.harrypottertheplay.com/au/
Photo credit: Matt Murphy