You’d have to be living on Planet Zog, or be the muddliest Muggle ever there was, not to have heard the big news: Harry Potter is back and on a London stage. After seven books that conquered the world and got young people reading again, J.K. Rowling has decided to sprinkle some of this priceless magic over the world of theatre. Together with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany, she has concocted a new two-part story that judiciously sees the focus shift to the next generation at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The truth is, they could have staged any old Potter tosh and the millions of eager fans would have booked tickets for years hence and shelled out for the merchandise. But what’s on stage at the Palace is as far from any old Potter tosh as it’s possible to imagine. Thorne and Tiffany are classy, inventive operators with impressive back catalogues, and The Cursed Child offers five hours of kinetic, compelling and emotionally gripping theatre. Although I gave up on the ponderous novels somewhere around The Goblet of Fire (book four), I enjoyed this re-immersion into the world of Harry, Hermione and Ron to a degree I was not anticipating.
The story starts where the epilogue of the seventh and final book leaves off. Harry (Jamie Parker) and Ginny Weasley (Poppy Miller) are now married, frazzled parents of three, seeing their son Albus Severus (Sam Clemmett) off for his first term at Hogwarts. His name, redolent of history, is not the only thing that hangs heavily with the troubled Albus. He has a fractious relationship with his legendary father, and the only person who seems to understand him is Scorpius Malfoy (Anthony Boyle), son of Harry’s arch-enemy Draco. Hermione (Noma Dumezweni) is married to Ron (Paul Thornley), and as might well have been expected, she’s Harry’s boss at the Ministry of Magic and Ron runs a joke shop.
Part One is agreeably easy-access, as Albus and Scorpius bond and make mischief. Part Two, however, which centres on the dark, time-travelling deeds generated by one last time-turner machine, is much more dense and deeply steeped in Potter lore; the running time could usefully be cut somewhat. Aficionados will of course squeal with delight at each name-check and gasp at the many twists and revelations, but what emerges above the complexity and detail is a deeply affecting, universally relevant story about fathers and sons, the challenges of growing-up and, above all, the vital necessity of friendship.
The always-excellent Parker is a treat as the rumpled, self-absorbed Harry, for whom the routine pleasures and trials of everyday life will never quite outweigh the burden of history. Dumezweni is wonderfully sharp and feisty, and Boyle marks himself as a name to watch. There’s magic in the productions too, artfully deployed and sensibly never attempting to rival the eye-catching special effects of the films. Shapes shift, things appear and dematerialise in an instant, and wraith-like dementors hover menacingly above the stage. In Harry’s world, happiness is always overlaid by a thin coating of fear.