Thursday, 28 July 2016

Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at the Palace Theatre

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts 1&2)
Palace Theatre
Reviewed on Wednesday 27th July 2016

Fans had every right to be sceptical when it was announced that J. K. Rowling would tell the eighth Harry Potter story in a new West End play. The project could have gone either way but some wise choices have been made, making Harry Potter and the Cursed Child an unforgettable theatrical event.

Split into two parts, the piece provides a nail biting, intense day's entertainment. You can either see Parts One and Two back to back in one mammoth day or on two adjacent evenings. Personally I couldn't have coped with seeing the show over two days - it's far too intense. I won't go into the story and spoil anything; as publicised the play kicks off where the books/movies ended at the epilogue - Harry and Ginny, Hermione and Ron and Draco are at Platform 9 3/4 waving their children, Albus, Rose and Scorpius, off to Hogwarts...

Thankfully producers haven't gone overboard and turned the Palace Theatre into a money-making fairground. However, from the second you step foot into the theatre you can feel the buzz. With people queuing around the block for returns, everybody certainly feels lucky to be there - it was the most excited audience I have been a part of since seeing Hamilton on Broadway. The audience were responsive all day, there were constant gasps and rounds of applause. It was electrifying.

You do not have to be a Harry Potter geek to understand Cursed Child. I hadn't read a book or watched a film since the final movie was released in 2011, but the Harry Potter world came flooding back to me as soon as the play began. Some basic Harry Potter knowledge is certainly useful - even if you just caught the first movie on TV a few Christmases ago. However, there are still plenty of fun references for the hardcore Potter fans. Cursed Child as a whole is a strong stand alone story, but Part 1 and Part 2 don't work separately - there is no way you could just see Part 1 as it ends midway through the story and the cast don't even come onto bow. Likewise, if you just booked to see Part 2 you would have absolutely no idea what was going on.

The entire creative team have collaborated sensationally. The story, which Rowling created with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, is superbly crafted. There are a couple of dips during Part 1 whilst everything is being established, but by Part 2 I was sat on the edge of my seat for the duration. Tiffany's production takes so many risks - it is by no means a safe, naturalistic piece of theatre. 

Movement director Steven Hoggett has injected the play with style - this is Harry Potter like you've never seen Harry Potter before. Cursed Child fully embraces the medium of theatre, it does things that can't be done on screen which makes it feel very special. I love that the play is bringing new audiences to the theatre, first time and regular theatregoers alike are going to have their minds blown.

There were a couple of small scenes which I wasn't a fan of but can't go into. The first act of Part 1 is a tiny bit silly at times, but as with all Harry Potter stories this juxtaposes nicely with the action which unfolds. I don't think I've ever fully appreciated until now the beauty of Rowling's work; whilst creating a mystifying world that fascinates us all, she has also created the most incredible characters which must be the reason for its success. If you forget the magic there are some raw, touching messages about the power of friendship. 

Christine Jones' set is cleverly stylistic whilst Imogen Heap's music is beautifully atmospheric. The majority of the piece is underscored; along with a snappy scene structure and smooth transitions there is certainly a cinematic feel to the play. The illusions by Jamie Harrison are breathtaking. I have never seen anything like it done onstage before. Rather than sitting there trying to work out how everything was done, I channelled my inner child and was swept into Rowling's remarkable world. Overall Cursed Child is very slick - I spotted one or two minor mistakes which is understandable in such a technical show.

Casting Cursed Child must have been a daunting task, but the creatives have got it almost spot on. Right from the beginning I fully believed that Jamie Parker, Noma Dumezweni and Paul Thornley were Harry, Hermione and Ron. Their chemistry is perfect, and it's interesting to see these characters eighteen years after we saw them last. Young stars Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle are the driving force behind the play as Albus and Scorpius. Clemmett shines, but it's Boyle who gives the breakthrough performance. There are some outstanding cameos from the supporting cast... but unfortunately that's all I can say.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a once in a lifetime kind of show. It was beyond surreal to revisit the Wizarding world through the medium of theatre. I loved the whole experience. When the play was first announced part of me was against the idea as I thought enough is enough... but now I've been left wanting more!

Reviewed by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will release 250,000 new tickets next week on 4th August 2016 at 11am, taking booking through to 10th December 2017. Please visit for further information.

Photo Credit:  Manuel Harlan

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