My birthday present – my quite extravagant birthday present to myself – was tickets to the two-part all day performance of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” at the Lyric Theatre in New York. And since today is Harry Potter’s birthday, as well as his creator J. K. Rowling’s birthday, I thought this is a good day to share some impressions.
And yes, I will “hashtag Keep the Secrets”, although I do wonder where the Magical Powers That Be draw the line. Is sharing evocative details from the Lyric theater’s wizarding-world-related renovation violating the Unbreakable Vow? Will Ministry of Magic aurors swoop down on me, confringo-ing my blogpost (or rather, considering my location, will I be busted by MACUSA agents)?
I write not to reveal story secrets but to praise the stagecraft, of which the enveloping atmosphere of the Lyric is one winning element. Of the story, I’ll just posit that “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” is not, as marketers will have you accept, “the 8th book” or even “the 8th part” in the Harry Potter literary saga. The seven Harry Potter books are their own contained galaxy, and the movies, the original adaptations and the Fantastic Beast films, as well as the play and its published script, occupy their own wonderful galaxies within the same universe. At least that’s the perspective I believe allows for the greatest appreciation of all the “content” the Wizarding World provides.
Case in point, without giving away too much, I’ll just say two words: Time Management. I read the script of “Cursed Child” as soon as it was published, nearly two years before I would see it performed on stage. Early on it became clear the use of time, both as a plot device and a story structure device, would be quite different from what was experienced in the original books. Reading this on a page, in a hard covered book, I felt my internal resistance grow. But then I took a breath, reminded myself that this isn’t a book, it is the script of a play, and just like the movies it must tell its story in its own way to suit the art form. The Harry Potter movies changed the stories at times to work as cinema, and these were direct adaptations of the original books. The Harry Potter play is not an adaptation of the books, as it takes place when Harry, Ron and Hermione are middle aged adults. As such it can fly even freer than the movie adaptations, and thus imagines a tale that is designed to resonate as a theatrical experience first and foremost. The story and the telling of the story are made powerful because of the special properties of live theater.
So I may have been concerned that certain tropes of “Time Management” familiar from other corners of fantasy culture but heretofore not part of the Harry Potter world become a major part of this story. But it turns out their unique inclusion in “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, unique to Harry Potter and unique even to the stage as a storytelling device (as far as I know), is a vital inextricable part of the production’s dramatic power.
The walls of the Lyric Theatre’s foyer are painted with Patronuses – magical protective animals of light – which hide quotes from the Harry Potter novels in their designs.
The story and its relationship to time serves to put the characters we’ve know as children, and now also their children, into a variety of extreme circumstances that forces us to see them in new fascinating, ever evolving ways. (And if I explained more precisely how that is I would definitely not be hashtag keeping the secrets anymore.) It also allows for some intense intimate scenes between characters. Some of the most affecting moments are when two characters are simply talking to each other. Words, acting, the drama of a relationship, those universal touchstones of the best plays are also what distinguishes “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”.
But what about the magic? The special effects?
Well, yes, of course that is a big brilliant part of the play. But believe me, this production would not have been embraced by the West End and Broadway communities (showered with 9 Olivier and 6 Tony Awards) if the words, acting, drama weren’t as potent as the magical effects.