by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorpe

Little, Brown


344pp/£20.00/July 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
Cover by Duncan Spilling

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

The thing about plays is that they were meant to be performed, not read. A play is designed to be a collaborative effort between the playwright, the actors, directors, crew, and audience, which means reading just the words, a collaboration between the playwright and the reader, is bound to lose a lot of detail and interpretation in the bargain. This is the primary problem with reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Jack Thorne’s play based on J.K. Rowling’s characters and stories.

The play has an intricate plot that weaves in many elements from the books, particularly Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. While they are integral to the plot of the play, the inclusion of so many familiar characters almost feels to a series of cameos done to allow the audience to nudge each other with recognition. The play does make use of a time-turner, like the one Hermione used in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, and one of the most interesting things the play does is present the use of a magical artifact in a manner almost completely differently than the way it was used in its original appearance.

Other differences from the novels seem a little more jarring. Ron’s character doesn’t seem quite right, providing some comic relief, but without the depths of character and loyalty that the character from the book had. His dialogue and actions may have been more appropriate being given to his brother, George. On the other hand, Thorne either fleshes out characters Rowling only vaguely introduced, like Harry and Ginny’s son Albus and Draco’s son Scorpius, as well as introducing new characters, most notably Cedric Diggory’s cousin, Delphi Diggory. These introductions allow Thorne to introduce his own take on Rowling’s world. Fortunately, he doesn’t just make Scorpius and Albus clones of their fathers. Perhaps the characters the playwright managed to capture most accurately, based on their earlier representations, are Hermione Granger and Minerva McGonagal.

One of the more intriguing things about reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the inclusion of the stage directions, which allows the reader to imagine the scenery changes and special effects and wonder how the crew with effect the stagecraft to pull them all off in a live theatre environment. It is easy to imagine the way they would appear in a film, but described for the stage, some of them sound very difficult to achieve in any sort of realistic manner.

The story told in Thorne’s play was crafted by the playwright, John Tiffany, and J. K. Rowling, so it would seem to be as much canon as anything Rowling has said or written since the original novels were published. Without the actors’ emotion and delivery, many of the scenes, presented as straight dialogue, fall a little flat, without the emotional backing the need to really make them work. Harry and Albus’s relationship, in particular, seems a little contrived, much as some of his arguments with Ron in the original series seemed to be more for the exigencies of plot rather than an organic outgrowth of the characters’ relationship with each other.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is an adequate postscript to the seven novels which make up the primary saga, although as a script it doesn't rise to their level. A production of the script, of course, could well add many layers or reflection and clarity to the script itself, and since a play, is, by its nature, fleeting in duration and unavailable to the masses (even one which will run as long as this will no doubt run in the West End), for many of Rowling's fans, the script of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is all they have to explore.

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