Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (West End, 2017)

I was the most avid Harry Potter fan. Growing up in Hong Kong, it wasn’t really a thing to dress up for move premieres or sleep outside bookstores wrapped up in your Slytherin scarf (because yes, I’m a Slytherin and pretty proud of it), but I was the kid who preordered the books when they were about to come out and also the kid who took Goblet of Fire with her into the shower for re-reading purposes (and yes, it inevitably fell into the water because I am an idiot like that so the book never fully recovered after that dive). But I cried at the movies and even more at the books (see: Fred’s death, in particular), and I also consumed (and wrote a bit of) fan-fiction between, and after books.

So it obviously was exciting when I heard about Cursed Child, although by the time it was announced / came out, I’d really gone over the most excitable phases of obsession. To an extent, I feel like sometimes the best things should be allowed to end honorably, instead of being dragged on forever; while I do love myself some Eddie Redmayne, I found Rowling’s decision to start a brand new franchise with Fantastic Beasts a little…odd. Even exploitative: perhaps the first film was laying too much groundwork, but I really didn’t particularly like Fantastic Beasts, largely because I felt like it was rather thin on plot.

And that was precisely my biggest gripe with Cursed Child. Better writers have critiqued the play for its queerbaiting, but honestly this was not my biggest problem – it was sweet to see Scorbus being good friends who were able to express their affection for each other physically and verbally, although I completely agree with the problems surrounding the ambiguous “crush” Albus apparently had on Delphini (more on that later) and the unrequited love Scorpius had for Rose, which was really quite forced, in my opinion, given that the playwrights tried to make it seem like he fell for her from Day 1 – when they were like 11 years old and on the Hogwarts Express. Yes, it’s probably true that kids mature very quickly nowadays and all that, but I find it honestly weird that there seemed to be so much riding on this crush Scorpius developed that first time he met Rose (especially in light of Rose really not liking him very much, and showing it: see her attempting to drag Albus away from Scorpius’ carriage).

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One thing that I had completely no problems with – and in fact, only good words for – is the staging and effects. The scene-changing was flawless; I particularly appreciated the way people came out and swished their cloaks around props to conceal them before removing them from stage (and also I think I need to buy one of those swishing cloaks). The revolving thing on stage (like the Les Miserables one!) is always a pleasure when used properly, and I think it helped add to the magic of the show especially when things seemed to just move around autonomously – e.g. the moving staircases in Hogwarts, which I found particularly brilliant. The dementors were another nice touch, since even us poor folk in the cheap seats got to see one up close when it “flew” towards the stage from the back of the theatre. The most impressive bit, though, had to be Scorbus and Delphi using Polyjuice Potion to become the Golden Trio to sneak into the Ministry – the same actors playing the Trio apparently just appeared after Scorbus et. al. disappeared into their clothes…and once the scene shifted away from the Ministry escapade to show what the Trio was actually up to, those same actors were there again i.e. literally making it seem like the same people were in two places at the same fricking time. I was literally blown away by this and had to check with my friend whether the same actors were playing both roles.

3 Things I had a Problem with

1. Ron: putting aside that he always seemed to exist just for comic relief in the movies, which is rather different than his primary role as being just a Decent, Loyal Friend in the books, I thought that he was pretty rubbish in Cursed Child. Why did he decide to take a step back and run Weasleys’ Wizard Weezes with George, when he never seemed particularly into the twins’ sort of prankster behavior in the books? Why was he so useless in the play – not just in the alternate universe where he married Padma Patil (which was another WTF moment – I really don’t think Ron was the type of person who’d just continue going out with Padma after Goblet of Fire, especially given the fact that (i) they previously did not know each other at all; (ii) Ron was busy saving the world with the Trio, and I really don’t see how that relationship would have worked out after the limited chemistry and rapport between the pair in the Yule Ball), but just in the main plot e.g. when he only joined Draco, Hermione, Harry and Ginny in trying to find Scorbus because his friends were involved and he had major FOMO. 16-harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-photo-credit-manuel-harlanTo be honest, I found it rather unfair that Rowling allowed her disapproval of Hermione ending up with Ron to tinge the whole play – of course, these are her characters so presumably she knows them “best”, but I also think there’s a sense of the characters getting lives of their own (which she must have conceded, given the epilogue where Ron and Hermione did get married). I think Ron would have been a good partner for Hermione – he’s fun and laidback, but serious when he needs to be, and he has his heart in the right place. I really doubt he’d just be sitting around doing nothing when the world plunges into darkness and his best friend Harry Potter pops round and tells him that shit is going down.

2. Hermione: why is she so mean in the play? Why is she so overly assertive with everything? I mean, I get the fact that she’s Minister of Magic, which must have accentuated every bossy tendency in her body – but the whole point of the character, for me, has always been that push-and-pull within her of knowing she’s the smartest in the room, and the most capable, but also realizing that there are bigger things than just competence. I felt that Hermione was all bark (and all bite) in Cursed Child, veering into “bossing everyone around” territory; for example, when she made all the announcements to “people” (who are these people?!) in the two “extraordinary general meetings” (of what?! Is this Important Wizard Co. Ltd. where EGMs are called for important announcements?) about Harry’s scar bothering him, it felt so different from the Hermione in the books who helped set up Dumbledore’s Army – without sounding pretty insufferable and high-and-mighty. I just thought she was pretty unlikable throughout, especially with how she seemed just exasperated and annoyed at Ron (and Harry) all the time. Also: that bit where she hid the Time Turner in her bookcase in a study, guarded by stupid riddles which not particularly bright kids could solve in seconds – definitely not a Hermione move, especially a Hermione who saw the safeguards used in Philosopher’s Stone (e.g. that logic riddle?). And seriously how is the Ministry of Magic so lacking in any sort of security mechanism that the Minister herself has to hide a dark artefact in her bloody office? Couldn’t she have put it in like a Gringotts vault or an equivalent in the dungeons of the Ministry or something?

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3. Delphi: what the hell? Seriously, of all the villains that could have been drawn up for a sequel, Voldemort’s secret daughter with Bellatrix Lestrange is the most implausible one – putting aside the question as to why Voldemort wanted to have a child, because he had like, several horcruxes which (at the point of impregnation) he thought were pretty infallible in terms of ensuring his immortality and legacy, can one seriously say that Bellatrix Lestrange and Tom Marvolo Riddle with his weird alabaster-colored skin and noselessness copulated in Malfoy Manor without anyone else knowing or telling someone about it – note that Lucius Malfoy apparently snitched on his fellow Death Eaters to escape imprisonment i.e. it probably had to be substantial information to warrant such leniency, and if the copulation, pregnancy and birth happened in his fucking home and to his sister-in-law surely he would have been aware of it and spoken up about it. The very picture of Bellatrix and Voldemort breathlessly humping away on some bed already makes me a little queasy, but not as sick as the Plot Holes involved, such as: (i) how did Delphi learn to be such a bad-ass witch who could single-handedly hold her own against Harry Potter (now Head of Magical Law Enforcement i.e. the Top Auror of the country, so presumably a pretty reasonably accomplished wizard), and the Trio etc. (which included Hermione Granger, one of the most talented witches of all time and who is Minister of Magic i.e. also presumably accomplished), given that she didn’t go to Hogwarts or any other school of magic to learn how to, you know, do spells? (ii) why didn’t the scar hurt before this particular moment in time in Cursed Child, if she was always existent as a dark force and a slice of Voldemort? (iii) what the hell was that prophecy? Did she make it up herself? Don’t you need a Seer to make a prophecy? (iv) what is this deal with the Augery? why is it so important to her, apart from it sounding like a cool word and being a pretty cool mystical creature with great symbolic value?

That’s just the tip of the iceberg, but I just don’t understand how the overall play was approved by J. K. Rowling – maybe she had a great picture in her head about how things actually were, and there were constraints about staging it and translating it via a script, but then why have it in a script? If she had so many ideas about how the world was going to be post-2nd Wizarding War, why not write another novel (or six)? Cursed Child to me just seemed like pretty bad fan-fiction, with Delphi being the opposite of a deux ex machina i.e. some magical (pardon the pun) villain just inserted into the plot without any logical justification for why, or how, she was so powerful and evil. I understood this theme of “daddy issues” – Scorpius/Draco, Albus/Harry and then Delphi/Voldemort, but it’s just not very convincing to have the climax of a 2-part play running over 5 hours involve a teary young woman claiming that she just wanted to make Daddy proud. (Also, how old is Delphi even supposed to be?! If she was born in around Book 6, she’d be around the age as Teddy Lupin…so (i) how is she so powerful as a witch, if she’d not really had much experience in the real world doing any type of magic, let alone practise her dark arts; (ii) how did she manage to pass herself off as Cedric Diggory’s cousin (i.e. someone around Cedric’s age i.e. someone around the age bracket of Harry himself, who was a year younger than Cedric – and to think Albus had a “crush” on her?!); (iii) how rubbish is Harry and his team of Aurors, if Delphi was able to learn all this dark magic (under someone’s tutelage) without their knowing?!

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Also, I literally cannot deal with the Interstellar-bit of time travel sorcery when Scorbus send a message to the Potters via the baby blanket (like Matthew McConaughey doing that thing with sand and the watch with Jessica Chastain, when he was trapped in some dimension). Why? Why was this necessary to make a good sequel?!

 

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