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Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child brings magic to the stage

Thankfully, my partner and I managed to snag tickets when they went on sale a year ago and travel to England to witness what can unreservedly be called a gripping piece of theatre.

Walking up to the Palace Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, you could feel the anticipation. For many avid readers, the Potter books have been a source of endless entertainment. As people posed outside the theatre, taking pictures upon arrival and in line for the epic performance — which is five hours of sitting, separated by three intermissions — you felt you were a part of something special.

The Palace Theatre in London

The Palace Theatre in London

The Cursed Child goes above and beyond most plays in its approach to adapted material. The world of Harry Potter is larger than any single stage; yet, like all good drama, the small wooden promenade for actors at the Palace becomes a gigantic world through the creative use of story, dialogue and effects.

Don’t worry, no spoilers will follow. In an effort to take in the play as a play, and appreciate the work as it came to life on stage, I actively kept away from the script written by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany after it was released. Thankfully for Scholastic, I was in the minority: the book has driven a 48 percent jump in revenue for the publisher in the recent quarter. These numbers are inspiring many with the hope that the Cursed Child will instill younger readers with a love of dramatic texts. I’ll be adding the play to my fall reading list without question now that I’ve been hooked.

The matter of the play can be seen as a collection of roads not taken within the course of the seven Harry Potter novels. The themes of family and alienation run deep; and while these elements were found within Rowling’s books, the play script puts them under a deeper focus. A new cast of characters fit comfortably within the world people have become familiar with through Rowling’s books and the Warner Brother movies, and the core protagonists and antagonists return thanks to many masterful performances by the cast. An unexpected highlight was the shocking appearance of the dementors. I could feel the chill come over the audience as the deathly, cloaked monsters careened around the theatre on wires.

The sets were vivid  though minimal  allowing the magic to come out through the use of story and per...

The sets were vivid, though minimal, allowing the magic to come out through the use of story and performance.
Manuel Harlan

For many, this might be the first time they’ve seen so many special effects within the context of a play. Nowadays, we’re used to seeing CGI bring a world of magic to life any time we head to the movies. The fantasies of the public are catered to and programmed for each summer blockbuster. But to see wand duels, physical transformations and the act of being sucked into a phone box in order to travel to the Ministry of Magic enacted on a very real stage is a marvel like no other. Cursed Child provided all of this and more, thanks to the masterful efforts of Jamie Harrison and his associate Chris Fisher.

Harrison and Fisher have been bringing magic and illusion to the theatrical stage for years — most recently in a production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — and their talent turned what could have been a very solid, yet simple, story-driven tale into an absolutely delightful experience. It’s not hard to suspend your disbelief as you observe the masterful use of pyrotechnics, wires, trap doors and misdirection; you can know these things are being used yet feel completely swayed by their effective adoption within the context of the play — it’s not just the fact that stage magic is being used, but the way in which it is so artfully placed within the play that draws the audience in. The magic of stagecraft becomes the stagecraft of magic under Harrison and Fisher’s efforts.

Another unique element of the play was the ethereal score created by Imogen Heap. Reworked material from her catalogue, as well as original material, helped create a sentimental and otherworldly atmosphere as the characters encountered the secrets of the wizarding world.

After the long day of play-going — which had started at 1 p.m. and ended at 9:30 that night — I could hardly believe how lucky I’d been to witness such a sensational show so early on in its run. For fans who can’t wait to witness Cursed Child, there is of course the play script to be read. And Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the newest Warner Brothers movie based in Rowling’s world, will be released in November. But if you get the chance to see this exceptional play in the flesh, don’t miss it!

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