I know I'm not the only one who feels they literally grew up with Harry Potter, judging by the initiation stories I overheard audience members swapping in the auditorium of the Palace Theatre, as we waited for "Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" to start. I was first recommended to the books by a friend in early secondary school despite protests I didn't think wizards would be "my thing". Shortly after, and before Netflix binges were standard, I found myself reading deep into the night to devour the three so-far published books as fast as I possibly could. Were it not for Rowling's publishing schedule slipping - for filming commitments or perhaps the strain of increasing each tome's likeness to an ever mightier doorstop - I would have been year-for-year in sync with Harry until the end. Still, the final instalment of the adventure published directly after my own final year of education: the end of an era for both of us.
Now, after all this time, the eighth book: a play. I was worried I wasn't enough of a "hardened Potterhead" for the coveted ticket, following warnings from otherwise rave reviews for how to get the most out of it. I also wondered if and how it could possibly live up to expectations. The phenomenal success of the series, which has sold hundreds of millions of books worldwide and inspired films that smashed box office records, is a tough act to follow. It's funny then it's this very idea of having something to prove, under the sheer weight of the achievements of Harry Potter no less, that drives the play's plot: chiefly about teenager Albus Severus Potter and his relationship with his dad, complicated by the burden of being the son of "the famous" Harry Potter.
Fortunately, like Albus, the play does prove itself and delivers everything that fans of the books, and of theatre alone, could hope for: swishing cloaks and duels and drama, laughs a minute and plenty of heart, not to mention more jaw-dropping special effects than you can wave a wand at. The stage magic itself is enough to make you appreciate with childlike awe the imaginative feat that is JK's wizarding world as if for the first time. Whether it's bringing to life the effects of a "polyjuice potion", the difficulties of navigating the "floo network" or inducing the queasy feeling of time travel - the Palace Theatre and its actors manage to pull it off with aplomb.
The five hours allocated is surprisingly just right, in spite of quips from the Times that the theatrical experience "lasts longer than some relationships", with crescendoing cliffhangers ahead of every interval perfectly timed. Meanwhile the mix of beloved character favourites and fresh blood is enough to satisfy readers' loyalty to the old gang and pique interest in the next generation.While ever mindful to avoid spoilers – pin badges bearing the slogan #KeepTheSecrets are handed out to audience members as they leave the theatre – reviewers are right to single out Anthony Boyle as the unlikely star of the show, as the endearingly awkward “quivering with geekishness” Scorpius, son of Draco Malfoy and foil to more anguished characters Harry and Albus Potter, played beautifully by Jamie Parker and Sam Clemmett. Paul Thornley meanwhile does characteristic Ron Weasley comic down-to-earth bluntness to a tee, with onstage partner Noma Dumezweni proving authoritatively cool as the now Minister for Magic Hermione Granger. But what’s more is that you can hear J K Rowling’s input in the lines themselves (the play is conceived by J K Rowling, with director John Tiffany and playwright Jack Thorne).
Rediscovering Harry Potter as he approaches middle age, and as he and his son physically revisit the past on a stage set of spinning clocks, feels particularly fitting. A decade may almost have passed since the last of the books were published, but while Harry's world has been gathering dust somewhere on a bookshelf at my parents' house (sorry mum), now here we are as adults. As hundreds of parties and midnight openings also aim to recapture the magic of those Potter years, so the nostalgia for recapturing where and who you were when first swept up in the Potter magic - be it at school, university, or as a reluctant fan reading from “adult cover" special editions - is what's going to put bums on seats, and sell books. As Waterstones' and B&N's pre-sales already indicate, I expect it's going to do rather well.
Katherine Cowdrey is a news reporter for The Bookseller.
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