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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre – review round-up

Noma Dumezweni, Paul Thornley and Jamie Parker in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan
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To call it the theatre event of the year would be an understatement. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the eighth chapter of the Harry Potter franchise and the first created especially for the stage, is a phenomenon, in more ways than one. Split into two parts (like the last film in the series), the first year of tickets sold out before the show had even gone into rehearsal. Co-created by JK Rowling, director Jack Tiffany and the playwright Jack Thorne, it had a huge amount of hope – and hype – to live up to.

Natasha Tripney rounds up the reviews.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – spell-binding theatre

The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

The majority of critics are in agreement that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child succeeds as theatre. The word thrilling crops up a lot. Michael Billington (The Guardian★★★★) called it a thrilling theatrical spectacle.” Sarah Hemming (Financial Times★★★★★) says: “the spell has worked. The result, delivered in two parts, is thrilling: gripping, dark, wittily acted and often visually dazzling.” Jack Barnes (The Independent★★★★★) calls it “a magical experience tailor made for the stage.” Mark Shenton (The Stage, ★★★★★) thinks it’s “a major work in its own right, with an entirely distinctive theatrical life and shape.” Hollywood Reporter, in a rather convoluted fashion, says: “surprisingly, it turns out that the medium of theatre is a better fit for the material than film, because in a theatre magic tricks really look, well, magical.”

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard,★★★★★) calls it” a feast for fans, packed with pathos, dazzling choreography and moments of pure enchantment.” Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out, ★★★★) squeezes in a sly owl pun, calling it “an absolute hoot, a joyous, big-hearted, ludicrously incident-packed and magic-heavy romp that has to stand as one of the most unrelentingly entertaining things to hit the West End.” Speaking of puns few critics have been able to resist sprinkling their reviews with references to magic. Matt Trueman (Variety), never one to shy away from a bit of word play, said it was “quite simply spellbinding.” He applauds the way in which “Rowling’s fantastical world is realized not with high-tech wizardry, but through the rough magic of theater.”

Sarah Crompton (WhatsOnStage, ★★★★★) says much the same thing with rather less fizz: “this may be the surest commercial proposition for years, but it is also a spectacle of epic sweep and magisterial grandeur. It is, quite simply, magic.”

Tim Bano (Exeunt) breaks his analysis down into two parts, looking at the Cursed Child both as a play and a production, admiring how “the play explores, in a way that the books don’t and can’t, the ongoing joy and trauma of parental love.”

Read The Stage’s review of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – event theatre

What’s clear from the coverage is that this isn’t just a major West End show, but something altogether bigger in cultural terms. Dominic Cavendish (The Telegraph, ★★★★) said: “I haven’t seen anything directly comparable in all my reviewing days.”

The Mirror and The Telegraph couldn’t resist going in early, posting premature reviews back in June, but most outlets observed the embargoes surrounding reviews and most (The Stage included) have duly pumped up their word counts for the occasion. The international press were also out in force too. The New York Times, Time, Chicago Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Entertainment Weekly and the Hollywood Reporter have all published reviews.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – #KeepTheSecrets

The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan
The cast of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

A lot of emphasis has been placed on not giving away the play’s revelations and surprises. Audiences (and critics) are encouraged to #KeepTheSecrets. Even this, not uncommon, plea has become a kind of marker with people proudly displaying their Cursed Child #KeepTheSecrets badges on Twitter. Ben Brantley (New York Times) spent an awful lot of his word-count debating the nature of secrets and spoilers and how they would shape his response, while it appears to be the intention of The Independent to post two reviews, one spoiler free, one “spoilerific.”

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – a magic act

Anthony Boyle and Alex Price in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan
Anthony Boyle and Alex Price in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

All of the reviews are in agreement that the standard of acting is high. Jamie Parker’s Harry Potter, Noma Dumezweni’s Hermione and Paul Thornley’s Ron all come in for praise. Shenton says Dumezweni and Thornley’s performances are finely etched, “combining warmth, vulnerability and winning humour.” Lukowski applauds Dumezweni’s “effortlessly shit-kicking” Hermione and Brantley, having referenced some of the furore surrounding her casting, concludes that she’s perfect in the part. Bano also agrees she’s an inspired choice, while for him, Parker’s Harry “brilliantly fleshes out a character who has always been hard to pin down.” Bano also commends the younger actors, including Sam Clemmett’s dorky Albus. “Best of all,” he says, “is Scorpius, played by Anthony Boyle.”

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – is it any good?

In short, yes. All of the reviews have been 4-stars and 5-stars. There are a few reservations. Quentin Letts (Daily Mail, ★★★★★has a good whinge about the length, and the fact that both plays viewed together add up to “one bot-rotting day.” He goes on to call it an “eight-hour marathon memorable mainly for its special effects” before concluding that the Palace Theatre “has a hit probably for years.”

Sarah Hemming also thinks “it’s bogged down by too much incident and too many characters: on stage you can’t turn back the pages and re-read any confusing bits. Some episodes seem superfluous, given the quantity of story we need to get through and such overload clogs the works and undercuts climaxes

Billington feels the “Cursed Child will make much more sense to hardened Potterheads than to anyone who is not a member of the global cult.” Neil Norman (Daily Express, ★★★★★), not a Potterhead one suspects, confesses to losing track of the plot on occasion but says the plays are so “packed with incident that it barely matters. You can just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

But the overall feeling is that this is a success both in dramatic and commercial terms as well as for the industry more widely. Shenton feels Harry Potter and the Cursed Child “could prove to be one of the most influential and important theatre works of the century, introducing whole new generations of people to the joys of theatre.”

Read more reviews on The Stage

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