In the twenty one days since Harry Potter and the Cursed Child‘s release, the play and I have had a pretty tumultuous relationship. I’ve gone from adoration to revolt and back again, with both reading the scriptbook and watching it live on stage eliciting far different emotions from me. It’s so heart-breaking to feel so let down by a series that feels more a part of you than anything else ever has, and yet just its very existence overjoys me in the purest way. Cursed Child definitely takes “problematic fave” to a whole new level and, quite honestly, I’m still not entirely coherent on how I feel.
Spoilers ahoy! Big time. There will also be mild play spoilers (?) in this too.
There’s only one way I can join my thoughts and feelings into one review, and that’s to break it down into sections. So here goes.
Where to begin, oh where to begin. This plot is kind of… complex, and yet not at the same time. The time travel basis of the plot is actually something I enjoyed quite a lot, even though I’m fairly certain there’s probably a very similar fanfiction already out there on the net. It employs all the same fanfic tropes we know and love in an endearing, truly magical way. Seamlessly, the lives of Scorpius and Albus were conjoined with that of the 40-year-old trio and it wasn’t so hard to believe the mess that ensued.
However, Delphi, daughter of Voldemort, is just about the most ridiculous plot idea I have ever heard associated with J.K. Rowling’s name. I’ve been saying to people for years that, if there were ever to be a ‘sequel’ to the series, then the antagonist of it wouldn’t be some sort of secret love child of Voldemort’s. Well… it seems I was wrong. I had faith in J.K. Rowling that she wouldn’t be so lazy as to given in to such an overused, eye-rolling plot twist. I guess I should have never held that faith at all because she went there, oh boy did she go there. I’m still a little bit in shock that this is how she was happy for the series to continue because all it screams to me is “we couldn’t think of anything better so we took the easy option”. I love the original Harry Potter series for it’s intricacies, twists, and turns; this lax plot cumulation is not what I expected.
Let’s start with the Golden Trio. Specifically – Harry. I can’t actually figure out what my feelings about Harry’s characterisation are. I loved how his PTSD played into the story and how his insecurities were exposed; that we got to see that not everything was perfect 19 years later. The question is: do I believe Harry Potter capable of treating his son the way he did? I think so yes. I can see the pain it caused him, and how much more difficult he must’ve been to parent than James or Lily, because Albus is so much like him than I think either of them realised. And bloody hell, I imagine having a father like Harry Potter is pretty damn hard to be honest.
“Love blinds. We have both tried to give our sons, not what they needed, but what we needed. We’ve been so busy trying to rewrite our own pasts, we’ve blighted their present.”
Now, Hermione. Minister for Magic really rather suits her, and wanted-woman-rebel!Hermione in the second alternate reality was such a badass. The first AU Hermione though, I just don’t understand. Her not marrying Ron turned her into what, some sadistic bitchy Professor at Hogwarts? I don’t buy it for a second. It was so OOC and I get that it was supposed to be, but in a plot that heavily explores the butterfly effect, it’s ridiculous to imply that side of Hermione could be revealed by her not going to the Yule Ball with Krum.
Hermione’s presence wasn’t the worst, though. Oh no. Let’s get started on the Weasleys – Ron and Ginny – because in no uncertain terms the plot would have barely been affected if Ron Weasley were not in it to begin with, and that angers me so much. Such a key, core part of the original series and in this he’s reduced to a one-liner? He was funny! I loved the funny! But Ron is so much more than funny, and I thought J.K. Rowling knew that.
And Ginny, my dear girl, what on earth happened to you? You were my favourite. You were headstrong and witty and heartfelt; you were above and beyond, the fire of the series, yet in Cursed Child you’re just kind of… not there. It saddened me so much to see her reduced to something far more resembling of movie!Ginny than the girl with grit I expected.
Back to the positives, Draco’s sort-of redemption arc is neat-o and I’m super glad this wasn’t ignored, when he could’ve so easily been pushed aside too. In particular, my favourite moment was Draco in the alternate reality, when he didn’t frown at the light in Scorpius but encouraged it. I think it shows that, hey, he wasn’t a 100% bad guy all along. Even in an alternate reality where Voldemort won, Draco isn’t so easily swayed to the dark side.
Where the play really picks up is when it comes to the stars of the show: Scorpius and Albus. These two manage to carry the play to such great heights – they’re funny, they meld well together, their emotions drive everything, they’re crazy and reckless and adoring and dorky and I just loved them, I really did.
“If I had to choose a companion to be at the return of eternal darkness with, I’d choose you.”
Scorpius Malfoy is by far my favourite character in the entire play. I wish I could just have a little pocket Scorpius to carry around with me and chirp little fun facts and say funny things to me. Bless him.
This is the part where the play really lets itself down. Big time. The queerbaiting in Cursed Child makes me want to scream – I’m almost on the verge of tears right now. How? How could they do this?
For those who aren’t familiar with the term queerbaiting, it’s when romantic tropes are employed between two same sex characters with the intention of drawing in the people who are clamouring for LGBTQ+ representation, without alienating the flip side of the audience (those who do not care whether media has gay couples or not) because they, for lack of a better term, don’t follow through with the romance. It’s taking two same sex characters, thrusting them into emotionally and/or physically romantic situations and then pulling back and going “haha, just kidding they’re only friends!!”.
So, we see this with Scorpius and Albus. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these two are, undoubtedly, in goddamn love with each other. This is way more than an all-encompassing friendship and the scriptwriter knows it. Not only do they simply read as more than just friends, but there are a couple of comparisons made between Scorpius/Albus and Snape/Lily which really cannot be ignored.
So… what I’m getting from that extract is Albus is to Scorpius what Lily is to Snape? Right. Okay. And sorry, what was that you said Jack Thorne… “just friends”? Hm, funnily enough I don’t buy it.
Just in case I’m not being clear enough here, lets look at some more quotes:
My heart breaks too. It breaks that J.K. Rowling would allow this, after everything she’s said. This scene on stage had me actually sobbing it’s that shattering.
But perhaps the most obvious line of all…
These two literally scream “we’re here and we’re queer” so why don’t the romantic allusions ever amount to anything? If one of them were a girl, this is undoubtedly the direction the play would’ve taken, and absolutely none of the dialogue or stage directions would have to be changed to make it so. And yet…?
This blatant display of queerbaiting riles me up because it is 2016 and the LGBTQ+ community is already getting so much more representation but there is still a mountain-and-a-half to climb before the equality is real. Think about the amount of influence J.K. Rowling has in the world and yet these two boys are being unrightfully confined to “just friends”?
To be honest, I don’t know why I’m so surprised that something like this has happened, given the frankly ridiculous retrospective announcement that Dumbledore was gay, which J.K. Rowling and many others deem to be “perfectly reasonable representation”. No. Just no. This is 2016 and goddammit why can’t we see gay witches and wizards?
“Okay. Hello. Um. Have we hugged before? Do we hug?”
What we have is potentially nothing more than a failed attempt at showing male friendship in a positive light, but the result is dangerous, alienating, and frankly makes me want to cry. It breaks my heart that this is what hand the LGBTQ+ community has been dealt. Jack Thorne and co. knew exactly how many people would eat up the Scorbus allusions in the play – there is no denying that they weren’t aware of the vast fanfiction about the two beforehand, a slash ship with a humongous following stemming back years. This couple would’ve been greeted with open arms, and I think the uproar about the queerbaiting shows that, but instead of doing the right thing – the best thing – we were let down in a catastrophic way. I’m so tired of this fight.
So I ship Scorpius and Albus, I ship them so hard, because not only are these characters dear to my heart but Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle do more justice to them than I ever dared hope. Like I said: they made me cry, they made me cry so hard, and these two definitely stole the show.
script vs play
When I first read the script I was fuzzy and warm and delighted enough to give it 4 stars on Goodreads. Since then, it seems, my estimation of it trickled down as all of its many, many flaws were exposed. With some time to mull it over, I’m now changing the rating to 3 stars.
That being said, those are my feelings on the script and the script alone. Of course, the play is primarily the script replicated, but it’s so much more than that. When I saw it this week I was continuously blown away by the sheer talent of not only the cast (who were fab) but by the technical department too. I’m still mindboggled over some of those special, magical effects… like, seriously, the Polyjuice scene still has me so confused. A lot of the tricks I could tell how they were done but there’s two that still, to this moment, have me sitting here screaming “HOW!”. If you told me outright that magic were real I wouldn’t even question you right now because this play is pure magic.
In addition, I cried about five or six times during the play and I didn’t cry a single time reading the script. When it started I got overwhelmed and teared up a little (okay, a lot) and I sobbed a good bit during the infamous Scorbus staircase scene (see photo in the Scorbus section) along with the one right at the end where the group watch Voldemort murder James and Lily. The latter – jesus, that was staged so incredibly well. Hats off to whoever thought that up because I was an emotional wreck.
“People think they know all there is to know about you, but the best bits of you are — have always been — heroic in really quiet ways.”
The staging and sound were used so well throughout the whole play. In fact, it was much more than just a show: it was an experience. In every way, it went above and beyond to remind us all of how effortlessly magical the world of Harry Potter is. I’m still in awe now, and searching far and wide for tickets to see it again because it has left an emotional void in me that needs refilling.
what was missing
As I’ve been saying though, it wasn’t all perfect, and there are a number of things that I felt were really missing from the play for no good reason. The first of those is Neville Longbottom… I’m not asking for a main role here but I am asking for Albus’ godfather (wow, did we all forget that little Pottermore tidbit?), the man who, so it seems, was solely responsible for Dumbledore’s Army’s success in the Battle of Hogwarts, to have at least said… a line? Two lines? Been a character in the show at all? To place so much emphasis on him and then to ignore his general existence seems a bit ridiculous.
“So you’re telling me that the whole of history rests on… Neville Longbottom?”
But Neville isn’t the biggest miss of the show. That crown collectively goes to Rose and Hugo Weasley. When I first saw the cast photos for the play I thought Rose, Albus, and Scorpius were going to have an adorable friendship but that’s not the way things went. Rose is pretty unnecessary to the story and a trick sorely missed by Jack Thorne – and Hugo, well, he might as well have never existed. If we can see Lily and watch her be sorted, why not Hugo too? It doesn’t make any sense to me.
I guess, after seeing this rambling part-rant, part-review you can see why I have such difficulty settling on my opinion of Cursed Child. Despite it’s flaws, of which it has many, it fills me with an overwhelming sense of joy in only the way Harry Potter can. This series is as much a part of my being as ever and I’m not ready – will never be ready – to say goodbye to it for good. So no, this play is not the perfect sequel to Harry’s story that I hoped it would be, and in fact it falls quite considerably short of my expectations, but that buzz Cursed Child gives me and the tears it has caused me are real. Oh so real. If you are able, see the play, because it is phenomenal.
It’s not hard to see why Harry Potter is the cultural centre point of this generation – and many more to come.