Harry Potter world reinvigorated in West End production

The West End production of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” revived the Harry Potter series in a theatrical format, illustrating the series’ lasting influence on global culture. / Matt Stein for The Miscellany News

Since J. K. Rowling released “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” in 2007, the future fate of her beloved characters has been unknown. She’s written a bit on Pottermore, the official Harry Potter website, but her loyal fanbase has not received much more. Despite saying that “Deathly Hallows” would be the last in the “Harry Potter” series, she changed her mind and now we have “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Parts One and Two.”

“Cursed Child” is currently showing at the Palace Theater in London. While both travel and ticket prices impose difficulties in attending the West End production, The Lyric Theatre in New York City intends to begin performances for the Broadway production by Spring 2018. Directed by John Tiffany and starring Jamie Parker in the eponymous role, “Cursed Child” creates a different world onstage while working with a script that comes across as artificial fan fiction.

This full-day theatrical experience is magical, to say the least. But you don’t need much knowledge of the Wizarding World to understand what’s going on. Perhaps it’s from the exposition-rich text, but though being a Potterhead will only enhance the audience experience, it’s not essential.

Despite none of the film actors appearing, the performances were solid. It felt a bit awkward at first to hear a 30-something non-Daniel Radcliffe call himself Harry Potter. After the first few minutes, however, that effect wore away. The standout performances were Noma Dumezweni as Hermione Weasley and Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy. Dumezweni initially got unjustified backlash due to her race, but she was the most grounded performer in this play. Now the Minister of Magic, Hermione carries on from the books as the voice of reason and Dumezweni’s performance is that of a well-seasoned actor, a genuine interpretation that doesn’t get hampered by previous incarnations.

Boyle presents a character that’s only briefly mentioned in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” and he makes use of the lack of expectations other roles are subjected to. As funny as Rowling would like Ron to be, it’s Scorpius that becomes the comic relief. Boyle gives the character a very distinct voice, almost like a mix between Gilbert Gottfried and Hugh Grant. As crucial as Harry Potter is to the story, Jamie Parker just feels angry in the role, like the character was in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.”

Besides the featured roles, “Cursed Child” frequently relies on its ensemble to create the world. One great example is when two characters are conversing on the moving stairways of Hogwarts. The two actors walk up separate flights but no special effects are used, instead the ensemble moves them around to create the moving effect. For the most part, the stage is left bare. The ensemble moves with precision and objective, which allows the audience to believe in the world that they create.

Despite Rowling co-writing the original story that playwright Jack Thorne developed the play into, moreover, the magic is not in the text. Instead, it feels as if Thorne was given a checklist of Harry Potter fun facts and loose ends and tried to see how many he could cover. As referential as Rowling was in the novel, this play is exposition until the final act. If someone wasn’t familiar with Harry Potter, they’d assume the ending was a deus ex machina. Thorne has also written for other British staples, like “Skins” and the “This Is England” miniseries, but he does not fit the vast world of Harry Potter.

Luckily, this play has more than one horcrux to live off of. The saving grace of this production is what the Harry Potter world is about: magic. With a lackluster text, the show fulfills the question of “Why do a Harry Potter play onstage?” At this point, anybody can see a movie and be able to understand how a world can appear before their eyes but theatre relies on the imagination. In a Peter Pan-like moment, this play convinces the audience to believe in magic. At the end of the second part, audience members had to swear to “keep the secrets,” and so only limited details can be given sadly. Different fantastic beasts find their way into the play through the innovation of brilliant designers.

In two parts, the run time is around five hours, with an hour break between. Part One ends on a very striking cliffhanger for both the diegesis and stage design. It’s very easy to question why Rowling felt the need to produce two separate plays, but she was never subtle in her love for detail. The characters remember everything. Some characters come across as chiding because of their need to constantly warn other characters about previous actions. This can feel very repetitive, as if the audience doesn’t even know who Harry Potter is and just wandered into the theatre by accident. Actually, it detracts from the story and half the lines are what a Potterhead would be whispering to their neighbor if things seemed unclear.

There were high hopes coming into this production and the lasting effect is a mixed bag. Is the show perfect? No. But for fans of Harry Potter and great theatre, this play is more than enough. Still, it is impossible to leave this show without cherishing the initial feelings of first meeting Harry Potter on Privet Drive all those years ago.

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