Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two
So, the 8th story in the Harry Potter series won't see fans sleeping overnight outside Waterstones... instead it is being presented in the West End. With many weeks of previews (an unfortunate Broadway trend), the fans are all fired up and social media is buzzing. Notwithstanding the fact that it is utterly critic proof, was it worth the hoopla, you might ask?
The short answer is a definite 'yes'.
What is most admirable about this epic two-parter (both run 5 hours 15 minutes in total) is that it is no lazy re-tread designed to squeeze more cash from this record breaking global franchise. It's instead a new story and the devotion which has been lavished on it is obvious for all to see. The budget is all up there on the stage.
J.K. Rowling created it with Jack Thorne and John Tiffany (Black Watch and Once) and hiring Tiffany was the masterstroke. A director at the top of his game, his kinetic productions incorporate movement, dance and design like no other. The result is an epic spectacle, with a cast of 42, which retains the dynamism of a blockbuster movie but at the same time is totally theatrical.
Jeremy Chernick's special effects are obviously key and Jamie Harrison's illusions manage to fuse state of the art technique but with a rather old fashioned theatrical flourish. Christine Jones' designs and Katrina Lindsay's costumes too are first class. Whether it is Moaning Myrtle spilling out of a bathroom sink, or the flying wraiths (called Dementors), let loose in the auditorium or a majestic Centaur (half man-half horse) these images will stay with you. Neal Austin's lighting and Finn Ross's video design are of course intrinsic to it all but never draw attention away from the whole.
Gareth Fry's soundscape too manages to strike the right balance between the Dolby deafness you endure in a multiplex and a more nuanced yet constant underscoring which is eerily effective. The whole thing is an exemplar of state of the art theatre making. Some might argue why try and be a facsimile of the multiplex, but today's audiences expect more and on my visit the audience was predominantly twenty/thirtysomethings. If theatre is the art of stopping people coughing, as Sir Ralph Richardson once put it, here this team held an audience so rapt they refrained from texting, photographing, chatting, drinking or eating takeaways. For this they deserve a medal.
The key to Rowling's success is of course her sheer mastery of narrative and here she doesn't disappoint. If anything there is too much to pack in and to Tiffany's credit, he slows it down at times to lend it some texture. His use of movement is enchanting and makes one realise this would make a great musical, if only you could prune the plot. There are audible sighs of recognition as various plot points from the books get resolved, but don't expect me to fill you in as I too have sworn to "Keep the Secrets". I was even handed the badge as I left.
If the story of Harry Potter so far was defined by his orphaned state, here we've moved on to the territory of fathers and sons. Harry, now 37, is a civil servant at the Ministry of Magic (where "he is not reading his piles") and is married to Ginny. Things have come full circle as they, together with Ron and Hermione, watch their own offspring board that Hogwarts Express. Harry's eldest, Albus (Sam Clemmett), with whom he has a prickly relationship, is a troubled and nervous soul, who hates being in his famous father's shadow. He is dreading the new school but soon strikes up a bond with a fellow outsider, Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle), who it turns out is the son of Draco, Harry's old nemesis. Their adventures make up the central spine of the story.
When they finally return to Hogwarts Sandy McDade's Prof Minerva McGonagall, in full Jean Brodie mode, proclaims "You two have a lot of explaining to do". Very Famous Five and a real understatement, because while gone they've jumped the Hogwarts Express, stolen a Time Turner, travelled back in time and nearly unleashing a wizard Armageddon. It all needs sorting out by the parent wizards.
Amidst all this sound and fury, the actors could of course get lost, but here the leads are remarkable. Jamie Parker, now an established musicals star, gives us a very sensitive portrayal of the adult Harry, that most human of heroes. He also displays a gymnastic grace in handling the physical demands of the role. Noma Dumezweni, one of our most underrated actors, lends her commanding presence and great voice to the grown up Hermione, a rather undercooked role here, sadly. Paul Thornley completes the trio with a perfectly judged comic turn as the warm-hearted Ron, now running a joke shop.
Fans will be enthralled and newbies will understand what all the fuss was about.
The script of the play will be published by Little Brown and as an eBook by Pottermore on 31 July.