A Magical Misfire: “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” Review

(To be clear: this is not a comprehensive review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the latest entry in the Harry Potter canon. This is only a review of what is in the “Special Edition Rehearsal Script” that was released on July 31st.)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is not a novel. We have heard this straight from the hippogriff’s mouth. Cursed Child is, as the cover declares, “a new play by Jack Thorne.” However, the script reads more like a screenplay than something that is meant to occur in a theater in real-time. Each of Cursed Child’s scenes feel like a bare-bones sketch of what is going on onstage. Readers are given the character’s lines, the scene’s location, some light stage directions, and brief notes to establish the mood. All of this amounts to something significantly less than what they would see in the theater. While a script is not meant to replicate the entire experience of watching the production, it should provide enough description so that readers know some of the “how” of what’s happening, as opposed to just the “what.” To be fair, the version of Cursed Child that has been released is labelled as a “special rehearsal edition script,” so it seems safe to assume that some of the technical aspects of the play may have been cut to favor an audience that does not spend a lot of time reading scripts, but what we are left with feels like the skeleton of a story that’s lost a few too many bones along the way.

All of this says nothing of Cursed Child’s ambitious scale. The story takes place in a myriad of locations, some of which are visited for only three pages. And of course, this being Harry Potter, there is magic aplenty, with haunted bookshelves and explosive duels being only a fraction of the fantasy the occurs throughout. That this show could be produced by any company off of West End or Broadway without the aid of magic is unthinkable. From the multitude of sets to the special effects, cast of thousands, and the story’s two-play structure, it is clear that Cursed Child was meant to be a singular event conceived for production on West End. It is not a work of drama. It is a work of Harry Potter, and can only be appraised as such.

To that end, it succeeds…kind of. This is a story about Harry Potter, or at least a story in which he features prominently. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Draco Malfoy, and even Professor McGonagall make appearances. There is a crowd of new characters to meet, particularly Harry and Draco’s respective sons, Albus Severus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. These new additions to the wizarding world are as fun and as real as we’ve come to expect from anyone in Rowling’s magical universe.

Herein lies the fatal flaw of Cursed Child: While the story may have come from Rowling’s world, she is not the one doing the storytelling. Cursed Child was written by English playwright Jack Thorne, and although Mr. Thorne’s script is passable in its own right, reading it as a part of the Harry Potter canon gives one the sense that they’re eating the off-brand version of their favorite cereal: the box has the same color scheme, and the cereal pieces have the same shape, but the taste just isn’t quite right. At its best, Thorne’s dialogue has a fraction of Rowling’s cheekiness. At its worst, it’s painfully expository.

Cursed Child deals thematically with the passage of time, and how the choices we make influence our true selves. In this respect, Thorne’s authorship almost serves as a better kindling for thought than his writing itself. Can time change a character to the point where another author is better suited to write for them? When does a character pass from being the property of one individual to being an idea crafted by many, like Ian Fleming’s James Bond? Considering the series’ overwhelming ubiquity since the first book’s publication in 1997, the later is possible, but at what cost?

Perhaps there are elements to Cursed Child’s story that cannot be sufficiently conveyed in text, and can only be brought to fruition in the theater. Seeing as all those who see the show in West End are sworn to secrecy regarding what they saw, for the meantime, the rest of us are left with nothing more than Jack Thorne’s script, wondering where the magic has gone.