The universe of Harry Potter is one that has been enamoured internationally amongst all generations for over twenty years now. With the first book of the series being released in 1997, many of us grew up alongside the franchise and the story seems to bind a deep, personal connection with those who read it. Despite reaching the third decade of Potter, there is no evidence of the cult hysteria surrounding J.K Rowling‘s Wizarding World disappearing. The second movie of five-part Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was released in November of last year and of course, the expanding theatre production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has finally reached its third stop in the world, Melbourne.
Written by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child unfolds as the eighth story in the series, set nineteen years after the seventh book. The plot follows the adult lives of Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny (etc), now working at the Ministry of Magic and raising their families. Simultaneously, half of the story’s focus remains upon the new kids and their own journey through Hogwarts. Despite its future setting, the premise remains as intricate and connected with the rest of the series, not merely with the same characters but also through its reference to time travel and flashbacks. As with the rest of the books, themes of friendship, family, loss, bravery and Good vs Evil are just as predominant.
The development of beloved, old characters was an absolute pleasure to witness – particularly those who were children in the previous stories. The actors portraying Harry, Ron, Hermione & co adopted characteristics from the films and the audience noticeably appreciated the frequent jokes referring to the hardships of being middle-aged. As well as the old, multiple new characters (including an entire new generation of children) created a fresh layer of depth for the Harry Potter world. William McKenna (Scorpius Malfoy) appeared the ultimate scene-stealer. His characterisation was second to none and appealed to an audience who immediately favoured him. One or two shaky British accents aside, the cast were fantastic and carried the show with consistency and likability throughout.
Of course, for a production about wizardry, the most anticipated aspect of the performance was bound to be the execution of magic in real life. Without a doubt, the combination of design elements were the striking triumph of the play. Theatregoers witnessed the consumption of Polyjuice Potions as well as transfiguration, patronus charms, moving objects, moving staircases, people disappearing and so much more.
Each time a particularly remarkable or bewildering moment of magic occurred, the audience reacted verbally with sharp inhales and often a round of applause – the response people would give to a real life magic (or card) trick if performed in front of them. These moments worked to keep the crowd on the edge of their seats throughout, continuously being taken aback and stupefied by what they were witnessing. The creative and production team did an utterly bewitching job; everything looked mesmerisingly authentic. I spent the majority of the play either wondering how the tricks were achieved or forgetting that it wasn’t real.
Perhaps the most drastic change when comparing the stage production to the films is the contrast in music. Instead of the distinctive orchestral score heard in the movies, much lighter and stripped back compositions written by Imogen Heap are used. The playful arrangements often acted as a soundscape or backdrop to scenes, rather than becoming a dominant focal point. Heap’s choral, lyric-less vocalisations brought an element of human presence to the music – an aspect somewhat absent from the film score in which vocals weren’t used. This choice of music formed the greatest disconnect between the films and the play, but it worked. Although atmospherically it was incredibly different, the result was equally enchanting and fantastical.
Being born in the 90s and growing up in London, my childhood and adolescence felt completely enveloped with all things Potter. Denying myself of reading the script when it was released, I was eager to experience the story firsthand through its performance onstage. The show is exceptional in every way. From a plot-line that is equally compelling as the other seven books, the actor’s intriguing portrayal of old and new characters, to the creative and innovative design elements that make this captivating show one of a kind. If you’re a HP fan, the Cursed Child is absolutely essential viewing. Seriously. This hypnotic performance will draw you in as intimately as everything else that has stemmed from the charming and cherished franchise.
FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
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The reviewer attended the performance on 17th February 2019.