A good piece of theatre should have a grounded narrative, such that it doesn’t rely on supplementary information for an explanation. Skilled actors should be able to convey the narrative, and reveal a new story to an audience. Unfortunately, the anticipated Broadway debut of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child troubled me in this sense. Explicit references were being made to characters from different books (Cedric Diggory, in particular). Hence, is necessary to recognise these echos, to understand the progression of the play. Having intentionally not read up on the play, nor read the manuscript published in Summer 2016, I remained rather confused during the first act, of part one.
While I did enjoy the new theatrical experience the play attempted to convey, it felt like it was still in teething stages. After walking back from the theater at 10:30PM, I felt as if I had just seen a “rough draft” or a workshop of the play.
The play is too long. It does not have enough substance to keep the momentum. With a very narrow plot, two scenarios occur: one, you will either appreciate all the Harry Potter explicit references, and enjoy hearing the lexicon being used. However, if you are like me, someone who is familiar enough with the general plots of each book, however, not a “Potterhead”, you will be left somewhat confused, until you are forced to quickly research the main character references in the interval.
While many claimed it is not important to know the franchise series, I challenge this view. It is important to know the characters, plots and references from the series, otherwise, all you are left with, is a mundane subplot, of a father and son relationship. The play commences with enough impulse (especially as the music and choreography add a dimension of rapidity to the play, giving it a cinematic affect), however, begins to veer towards a dead end. There is a limit to the amount of magic that can be used, without seeming tacky (thankfully, these were not overused, and a good balance was maintained throughout), and the dialogue was not particularly witty.
As of the individual performers, strong performances from the majority of the cast, particularly Jamie Parker and Sam Clemmett. I thought Noma Dumezweni’s portrayal of Hermione was somewhat calculated and meticulous. Although at times her acting felt slightly forced, it seemed to work quite well in the context of some of the scenes.
The staging and directing was very impressive, and the implementation of fast pace music in a play was something new (to me, at least). While the majority of the play’s success clearly stems from its established name, I strongly believe that the artistic elements of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child will serve as a springboard to many more plays to come. With its strong directing, impressive staging and implementation of music and choreography, this production definitely divorces and differentiates itself from current plays and creates a subgenre to classical theater, integrating cinematic elements within theater.
Reviewed by Sam Ryb
Photo: Manuel Harlan