Back in 2001, when Warner Bros.’ Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in cinemas, I’d never have thought that one day I’d be writing a few words about Harry Potter and anything Hogwarts.
With just that one film under my belt, not a page read of J. K. Rowling’s 7 novels in her popular fantasy series and highly likely one of the most Potter-ignorant Muggles in attendance at the buzzing opening night of the condensed single-show production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, there could have been something to feel afraid of amongst Potter-soaked fans.
But the multi-faceted magic descended, the captivating adventures took flight and this Muggle was swept away by a wondrous and enthralling theatrical experience that takes one along an affecting, literally time-turning story that touches everything from the funny bone to the bone-chilling.
The crucial point to make is that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jack Thorne’s stage play based on an original story by Rowling, Thorne and John Tiffany, functions hugely effectively as a rich, stand-alone work containing plentiful lasting imagery, storytelling knack and food-for-thought themes.
Much had happened since first meeting the fresh-faced Hogwarts trio of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger. They’re all married (Harry to Ginny Weasley and Ron to Hermione to my surprise) and, more than a couple decades later, here we are amongst a new generation of young wizards.
The drama picks up the story 19 years after Rowling’s last Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, with characters including the adult Harry and Ginny and their younger son, Albus Severus, Draco Malfoy (young Harry’s bullying rival) and his son Scorpius, and Ron and Hermione and their daughter Rose.
A lengthy entourage of other plot-driving characters make punchy appearances and oft jaw-dropping disappearances along the way in this whizzingly comfy, reimagined, three and a half hour show (including interval) directed by co-creator John Tiffany.
The magic and illusions crafted by Jamie Harrison are utterly astonishing. Blink-of-an-eye costume transformations, levitating broomsticks, flying furniture, talking tomes and flame-jetting wands are just some of the extraordinary tricks to marvel, including one of the most terrifying moments anyone is likely to have in a theatre. Without spoiling the effect, you don’t need to know Dementors are soul-devouring wraithlike creatures — the theatrics make it explicitly and chillingly clear.
And yet, in the end, the story’s radiance is the focus that is brought to a beautiful and blossoming love between friends Albus and Scorpio – beating all the odds and sharing their purposeful adventures side by side – as well as the father-son conflict arising from Albus’ struggle in living in the shadow of his wizard-hero father and Harry himself wrestling with issues of both his past and his expectations for Albus.
Rowling, Thorne and Tiffany judiciously tell their story with a good dose of sage-like preaching here and there without it tipping over into awkward mawkishness. The lines begin at breakneck speed with the feeling that the pace could be slowed down a whisker but the story is served well by Tiffany’s stage and Steven Hoggett’s movement direction. It’s slick, lightning fast and brings to gobsmacking fantasy and life that thematic radiance that defines the play.
A superb, high-octane cast make sure every bit of entertainment and emotional value is taken to the best limits. Leading out in front, Ben Walter and Nyx Calder are a powerful and endearing duo in their navigation of adventure, friendship and convincing path of maturing adolescence as Albus and Scorpius respectively.
The two share an invaluable chemistry as they capture the heart and honesty of their characters – Walter in portraying Albus’ vulnerability and ardour as he flexes his climb from underlying issues, Calder in effortlessly and high-pitched delivery portraying Scorpius’ excitable nature and unaware perspicacity while under the cloud of having just lost his mother.
Gareth Reeves gives an excellent performance as Harry, easily persuasive as a hard-working father dealing with the difficulties of parenting and eventually learning to see and love Albus for who he is – there may be tears to wipe away before the curtain goes down. Lucy Goleby is a neatly presented and calmly balanced presence as Ginny, Paula Arundell is delightful and assertive as Hermione and Michael Whalley is a hugely entertaining down-to-earth comic cracker as Ron.
As an outwardly dignified-looking Draco, adjusting to being caught up in events and the death of his wife, Lachlan Woods stirringly reveals Draco’s warmer attributes and George Henare presides with wisdom as the apparition of Dumbledore.
In other supporting roles amongst such great performances, Jessica Vickers perfectly inhabits the punk-like, double-crossing Delphi Diggory and Hannah Fredericksen is an unforgettable sight and hilarious encounter as Moaning Myrtle.
Set designs, costumes and lighting (Christine Jones, Katrina Lindsay and Neil Austin) evoke a spectacular picture-book world framed by grand steel arches that set the scene at London’s King’s Cross Station (where Albus, Scorpius and Rose board the train for Hogwarts) and the lofty Victorian halls of Hogwarts itself.
Small roll-in-and-out set pieces shrink the grandeur to more intimate scenes, including two timber staircases manoeuvred in an often constant dance that create further exciting action. Not a crack of boredom sets in that could destroy the total effect.
The world of Harry Potter is a complex realm. If you’re not familiar with its characters, language, symbols and structure, have no fear. Within its magical awe you’ll find it’s not unlike our own. Except perhaps that we could do with far more magic!
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Princess Theatre, 163 Spring Street, Melbourne
Performance: Thursday 19 May 2022
Season continues to 16 October 2022
For more information, visit: www.harrypottertheplay.com for details.
Image: Michael Whalley, Paula Arundell, Tom Russell, Lucy Goleby, Gareth Reeves and Ben Walter in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – photo by Michelle Grace Hunder
Review: Paul Selar