'Cursed Child' Has Cast A Spell Over Critics
On Sunday, July 31, the eagerly awaited next chapter in the Potterverse will finally hit the shelves. The story is so eagerly awaited, in fact, that Harry Potter And The Cursed Child has broken pre-sale records and already topped many a bestseller list at outlets like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. But one day before the world at large receives Cursed Child in script form (co-written by J.K. Rowling alongside playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany), the play itself will open on London's West End. Thankfully, that means we can already get a sense of whether or not the new saga will live up to our sky-high expectations, since the critical embargo has just lifted and the Harry Potter And The Cursed Child reviews are officially in!
I won't keep you in suspense. They're glowing… for the most part. Of course, any work available for popular consumption will always find its detractors (no Harry Potter movie ever earned 100 percent on RottenTomatoes, after all); but by and large the critics seemed spellbound by the lavish production — as disarmed as though they'd been hit with expelliarmus. Here's a small sampling of what some of the top critics had to say.
(Although I tried to keep these snippets relatively spoiler-free, be warned that some of the full reviews discuss aspects of the plot in a level of detail you might want to reserve for your first time reading the script — or seeing the play, if you're so lucky.)
EW's reviewer James Hibberd started things off by noting that Cursed Child is "a production that’s as spectacular as it is ambitious, stuffed with special effects and twists that had a preview audience gasping." He also cautioned Potterheads that the play is "a story that doesn’t play it safe with the Potter canon and will change how fans see certain favorite characters forever." (Gulp!)
Hibberd did have some criticism, though:
All the components are there for greatness, but this not-final preview version I saw last week was a potion that Severus Snape would brew longer before serving up. … Part One in particular seems a bit overstuffed — with some lengthy exchanges and a few wholly unnecessary scenes that could be cut altogether. The production needs more moments to let the actors take a breath and play their roles rather than speeding through pages of script faster than Harry on his Firebolt.
"At heart, The Cursed Child concerns itself precisely with the anxiety of having an illustrious forebear and the dangers of trying to go back over old ground," wrote Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish. "It persuasively argues the value of doing so, too. There’s a universal, relatable emotional core to the show. How do we grow up? How do we talk to our closest family members? How do we heal deep-rooted psychological damage?
Billington also detailed his reservations, saying that "the male roles are far better fleshed out than the female ones; we see too little, for instance, of Ron and Hermione’s daughter Rose)," but he acknowledges that "to labour those failings would be to miss the point. The big news is that this is just what was needed, will raise the benchmark for family entertainment for years to come and may even usher in a whole cycle of Potter-world stories."
While Guardian's Michael Billington thoroughly enjoyed the show, he does have one minor bone to pick: that the play "will make much more sense to hardened Potterheads than to anyone who is not a member of the global cult. … I’ve read one of the seven Potter books and seen a couple of the eight films, and enjoyed them without becoming an addict. At times during the day, I felt as if I had wandered into Henry VI Part II without having seen the preceding plays."
The Wall Street Journal
WSJ's Kate Maltby risked many a fan's ire by publishing one of the play's more critical reviews. Her grievances? That "Cursed Child isn’t quite the real thing: a nostalgic reverie for the Potter generation, devoid of Ms. Rowling’s sharpest metaphysical logic;" that "we sometimes feel we’re at a theme park ride rather than an artistic performance; that "the plot, spread over two plays in succession, is a mess;" that "the reveal of the true villain is absurdly camp — through no fault of the actor concerned;" and that "the long queue for the merchandising desk, ushered over two stories of the building, hints at a motivation beyond the purely artistic."
Fortunately, Maltby's review also spoke to the play's strengths: "Strip away the smoke and mirrors and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is, like all Ms. Rowling’s narratives, a soul-salving celebration of friendship and loyalty."
Conversely, TIME's Theo Bosanquet couldn't have been more thrilled, calling Cursed Child "London's answer to New York's Hamilton." He also preemptively countered other critics' complaints:
Cynics have suggested the decision to split the play into two parts rather than one smacks of commercial exploitation, echoing the way the final book was broken in two on screen. But Cursed Child could only be told over the five hours that splitting it into two allows. It’s a fiendishly complex narrative, and moves at a lick.
Bosanquet also has an optimistic prediction for the play's future: "One legacy of the Potter books is the way they turned a whole generation on to reading. Cursed Child will perform this same service for theatre, as Potter-mad millennials pack the stalls. For that alone it deserves the unending run it will surely now receive."
The Hollywood Reporter
A common refrain among reviewers, both the effusive and the more reserved, is that the production itself has to be seen to be believed — a sentiment that The Hollywood Reporter's Leslie Felperin expanded on:
Surprisingly, it turns out that the medium of theater is a better fit for the material than film, because in a theater magic tricks really look, well, magical. No one speculates with awe these days over how filmmakers can make a boy fly on a broom, or a dementor float, or one character transform into someone else on the screen because the answer is always pretty much VFX. Yet, when this production uses a simple lighting trick to suggest a ripple in the fabric of time, or makes someone disappear in a phone box (almost literally the oldest magic trick in the book), these dusty theatrical sleights actually draw gasps and applause from the audience — perhaps not unlike the first stage audiences for Peter Pan.
What about Harry himself? Independent's Jack Shepherd warned fans that they might not recognize this new, older vision of the character. "For many, this version of Harry — whose fathering skills are rather awful and whose arrogance is at times unflattering — will be jarring to fans at first," he wrote. But that's not necessarily bad news: "He’s not perfect, and that’s what makes him so great; this turbulent father/son relationship is entirely captivating and particularly emotional towards the end."
The New York Times
Although many people might assume that the titular "cursed child" is Harry's son Albus Severus Potter, many critics caution not to draw too many conclusions before seeing (or reading) the play for themselves. "Who is that cursed child, anyway?" wrote NYT's Ben Brantley. "More than a few of this story’s many, many characters (the adeptly multifarious cast numbers 42) might fit the description."
He also warned that, "Like the novels that preceded it, The Cursed Child is stuffed with arcana-filled plots that defy diagrams and baldly wrought sentimental life lessons, along with anguished dives into the earnest, tortured solipsism of adolescence" — which might be a good or bad thing, depending on how big of a Potterhead you are. "By rights, such a combination should try the patience of any grown-up," Brantley concluded. "But like Ms. Rowling’s books, the play vanquishes resistance."
While the play will inevitably draw comparisons to the books and films that came before, Variety's Matt Trueman detailed the differences between The Cursed Child and its predecessors:
If the originals showed one side of adolescence, The Cursed Child presents another — not the golden boy fighting for good, but the misfit battling with himself. Sam Clemmett’s Albus is a meek young thing, forever in his father’s shadow and preferring Hogwarts' dark corners to its limelight. He finds an unlikely friend in Scorpius Malfoy, Draco's son: geeky, gawky and, in Anthony Boyle's hands, all fingers and thumbs. The more the pair try to ingratiate themselves with their peers, the more they end up isolated.
And in the end, the relationship between Albus and Scorpius is what Cursed Child is really about, according to Trueman. "It’s the friendship of two bullied boys bound together, and it’s a beautiful, tender thing," he wrote. "The script … recognizes that rejection breeds resentment, and outsiders stew into outcasts. No one’s born a villain, nor sees themselves as such, and where the books gave us stock baddies, Cursed Child fleshes them out. Albus and Scorpius only ever try to make good, but their efforts tend to lead to bad."
Well, that certainly sounds ominous. Thankfully, it will only be six short days until we can all find out what he means when The Cursed Child is officially published. Or only five short days if you somehow managed to score a ticket to opening night. In which case, guard that ticket with your life — or under an invisibility cloak, at least.
Images: Manuel Harlan (9)