‘Cursed Child’ rekindles Harry Potter magic

Monday, January 16, 2017 - 10:45pm

2016 was the year I revisited the “Harry Potter” universe. Like many in my generation, I grew up with the series. I read the books and saw the movies as they came out, eagerly awaiting each new addition. The last movie debuted in 2011, and though my love for the series didn’t die, it was sedated as new material stopped coming out.

But this year, I ended up back in the world in a big way. First by visiting the Wizarding World in Orlando, then re-reading the books with my sister (on her first time through), followed by seeing the movie “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.” I capped off my year of wizardry with a trip to London, where I saw “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” onstage.

I knew little about the story of the “Cursed Child” going in, and nothing about how it was staged. I only knew it was from a director I love (John Tiffany, “Black Watch”) and a playwright whose work I didn’t know much about (Jack Thorne, “Skins”). And of course, I knew it was about Harry Potter and Albus Severus during the latter’s Hogwarts years. Despite all the people I respect who were involved with the creative team, and the amount I love both “Harry Potter” and the theatrical medium, I was skeptical going into the Palace Theatre. The show commanded a full day of my time, with the two part performance occurring over a matinee and an evening show, with a dinner break in between. I was not sure if it was going to be worthy of a two-part story onstage, where magic would undoubtedly be much harder to create.

Knowing little-to-nothing about the performance ahead is probably the best way to go into “Cursed Child.” I was awestruck by what they were able to pull off on that stage. For lack of a better word, the experience is best described as magical. As someone who grew up with Potter, I felt like I was transported back to Hogwarts, as they were able to pull of effects I never thought possible. Many moments left me with a dropped jaw or tears in my eyes.

Some of the credit for its success needs to go to the director, John Tiffany, and the movement director, Steven Hoggett. Having seen three distinct productions by Tiffany (“Cursed Child,” the stage adaptation of “Once” and his revival of “The Glass Menagerie” with Cherry Jones), it’s safe to say he’s one of my favorite directors working in theatre right now. The way he conceptualized some of the moments in the show to make it feel like magic was actually happening right in front of you. The show felt inherently theatrical in a way that I wasn’t expecting. In addition, Hoggett's exceptional choreography made for some of the strongest parts of the show. The play uses staged movement to transition, introduce concepts and, at one point, play with heavily emotional beats. The scenes felt electric, constantly moving and fraught with tension.

Credit also needs to be attributed to the actors, who brought their characters to life. The MVP of the cast is easily Jamie Parker as Harry. His character has the most to sort through emotionally, as he deals with issues in the relationship with his son, among others. There’s a moment at the end of the play where Harry has to face something immensely difficult, and Parker moved me to tears. Controversy ensued around casting the Black actress Noma Dumezweni’s as Hermione Granger, but she felt right for the part, nailing Hermione’s quick wit and intellect. While it took me a while to warm up to Anthony Boyle’s mannerisms as Scorpius, his charm and warmth won me over by the end.

Below this point, I discuss story and staging specifics for “Cursed Child.” If you don’t want to know anything about the plot or how it’s staged, stop reading here.

The play is thinnest in its plot, which when boiled down to a summary, doesn’t quite hold up. At the core, it’s a time-travel story, and comes with all the tropes and familiarities of one. The story centers around Albus Severus, feeling distant from his father, going back in time to try and stop Cedric Diggory from dying (at the request of his cousin, Delphi Diggory). There are mistakes and changes made, and people are erased from the timeline, a plot device heavily employed in sci-fi tropes. Still, when taken into the whole of the play, the familiar nature of the story isn’t very noticeable at all.

There was a specific moment that left me shell-shocked from what the show was able to pull off. Part one of the play ends with a well-managed display of special effects, where dementors swoop in from the top of the stage, as well as above the audience; banners bearing the Dark Mark lower from the rafters and the music swells. The powerful theatrical effect sent me out of the theatre in a state of shock and surprise.

Scenes like that were what made “The Cursed Child” one of the best experiences I have had in a theatre. “Harry Potter” has been a part of my life for a long time, and to see it cross over to one of my favorite entertainment mediums in such a strong way made it a special experience, which many Americans will hopefully be able to have in the future.