2.5 stars, which in no way does justice to the strength of the theme and my love for the characters, nor shows my bitter disappointment at a transparently derivative story that values nostalgia over narrative.
J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is likely the most loved story published in my lifetime. The heartfelt characters, gripping story, deeply imaginative world, and enduring themes resonate deeply with me and millions of other readers. I am an unabashed fan; it is a series that I treasure and will re-read over and over.
The screenplay Harry Potter and the Cursed Child begins literally where the absolutely perfect final words of The Deathly Hallows fade away, with young Albus Severus Potter departing Platform 9 3/4 for his first year at Hogwarts. He quickly befriends Scorpius Malfoy, and the two find themselves entangled in conflict both of legacy and of their own making.
The chief error of The Cursed Child is that it looks backward rather than forward. Far too many passages are simply alternate versions of what we have seen before. Rather than inventing new conflict, story lines, and settings, this play gloms on to The Goblet of Fire and never lets go–which means, sadly, that it is never able to breathe as its own entity.
Returning characters do not seem to be grown versions of the ones we love, either seeming contrary to their past or never moving beyond it. Harry is rather unlikable and authoritarian; Hermione seems only focused on her current duties; Ginny is barely noticeable. Ron’s earnest oafishness was one of many endearing qualities of a brave and loyal boy, but as we see him in this play, he is simply a caricature providing merely comic relief. Even when he does the right thing–join his friends to face peril–he does it with a flippancy that would have been unworthy of his school-age character and is far less endearing as an adult. And the weirdly flirty cameo by Moaning Myrtle? Very out of place.
Even some of the best moments are milked for their emotional impact. The scene with Hagrid is a rehash of emotions that is totally unnecessary; we lived through that one before. Perhaps on stage this plays better than on page?
For all of its failings, there is enough magic within The Cursed Child to delight. Albus and Scorpius are fantastic characters, and the whimsy of their madcap adventures is a pleasure to read. The valedictory moments are wonderful, as relations between Harry, Albus, Draco, and Scorpius develop and mature.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child was neither allowed to stand on its own nor to be part of the original series of Harry’s tale. While I suspect I would like it far more as a play, I wish this story had been so much more than it is. It is a testament to Rowling’s creation that I did not need another story of Harry, Ron, and Hermione; within the pages of this play was an astounding tale of Albus and Scorpius that was not allowed out.