Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at Palace Theatre

“Samuel – like Anthony Boyle before him – far outstrips all other cast members on stage, despite having a fraction of their experience.”

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WARNING: contains spoilers.

Since opening officially in the West End last July, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has racked up so many awards that I’ve lost count, including a record-breaking nine Oliviers. The days where theatre critics and fans were sceptical of this show are little but a distant memory and – as an avid Potter fan for the last 16 years – I have to admit that I was overwhelmed to see the show essentially giving those sceptics the middle finger.

Last month, I was lucky enough to return to the Palace for my fourth visit to Cursed Child and my first time seeing the new cast. While it may be said that the original, Broadway-bound cast were a hard act to follow, I won’t be the first to have noticed that Year 2 are taking ownership of their characters and doing an absolutely incredible job.

I’ll start with Theo Ancient (Albus Potter) and Samuel Blenkin (Scorpius Malfoy) – the true stars of the show. When you’re watching these two on stage, it really is far too easy to forget that they are straight out of drama school, and that’s what makes their performances so impressive.

Theo perfectly portrays Albus’ vulnerabilities and insecurities, and succeeds in showing audiences a likeable side to Albus – something which I doubted possible after seeing Sam Clemmett truly bring out the bratty side to Harry’s youngest son several times (and that’s not to discredit Sam’s performance, he’s great, he just plays the character in a way I struggled to find likeable).

Samuel – like Anthony Boyle before him – far outstrips all other cast members on stage, despite having a fraction of their experience. Honestly, it’s a joy to watch Samuel every moment that he’s on stage – his mannerisms, quirks and comedic timing are perfect for the role, and he certainly knows how to pull on the heartstrings, too (I needn’t say any more than ‘library scene’.) If Samuel goes on to win the amount of critical acclaim Anthony did, it will be thoroughly well deserved.

When it comes to the leading man, I see Jamie Glover (Harry) as somewhat of a ‘middle ground’ between Jamie Parker (who was incredibly shouty) and Stuart Ramsay (Jamie Parker’s softly-spoken understudy). He touches upon Harry’s troubles with a certain amount of ferocity, while keeping his struggle with fatherhood entirely relatable.

And talking of fatherhood struggles brings me nicely onto James Howard’s portrayal of Draco. While I could write about this character all day, I’ll keep it reasonably brief: for me, James brought a regality to Draco that I absolutely believe to be realistic. Both the way he carries himself and the way he speaks are so controlled, and in many ways he allows the self-assurance Draco had in his early teenage years lives on. However, Draco is shrouded in darkness due to the loss of his wife, Astoria, and clearly doubting his abilities as a father, and I feel that James hits the nail on the head when it comes to his emotions – he goes above and beyond in showing Draco’s grief and inner conflicts, not to mention his love for Scorpius and determination to do right by him. And, despite everything, James delivers Draco’s lighter lines in such a way that it’s impossible not to laugh. For me, he brings the perfect portrayal of a Draco who has learnt from his mistakes and strives to be a better person, for the sake of his wife and son, while keeping sight of key character traits that make the character development entirely believable, including his sense of superiority and burning desire to mock those around him.

My last cast member mention goes to Rayxia Ojo, who deserves some understudy love for making her debut as Rose Granger-Weasley in this performance. She was confident and commanding on stage, which made her an all-round great fit for the role.

There are many aspects of this play beyond the performances that contribute hugely towards making it the success that it is. Firstly, Imogen Heap’s musical composition. Many people, particularly the less intense fans, go to see the Cursed Child expecting to hear the tune everybody best associates with Harry Potter: Hedwig’s Theme. In reality, what Imogen has brought to the table gives the show its own identity, allowing it to break free from the Potter stereotype. From soft melodies for emotional scenes, to the harsher sounds of the AU, the soundtrack felt like a breath of fresh air for the franchise when I first saw the show, and fast became one of my favourite parts.

The special effects – as you might expect (or at least hope for) with a show that revolves around magic – are out of this world. I don’t want to go into specifics here as it will give too much away, but the honest truth is that some of the effects still leave me with my jaw on the floor, and I’m the first person to admit that I’m difficult to impress.

For me, the only part of this show that leaves room for criticism is the script. While I’m able to enjoy this show time and time again, I feel that has very little to do with the script, many parts of which seem to me to be little more than fan service. From Scorpius’ entirely unbelievable crush on Rose, to Draco’s subtle attempts to flirt with Hermione despite the fact he’s still grieving for his dead wife, the show seems to give a nod to every OTP that exists. Jo Rowling’s (I’m assuming this was her input at she did it in the novels, too) apparent need to pair characters off (or at least make them all have romantic feelings for each other) is irritating, unnecessary and adds nothing to the story.

This aside, the predictability of Astoria’s death still hits a nerve with me, and the fact that the storyline largely revolves around time travel seems to be a desperate attempt to bring back characters that Jo feels bad about killing off, if only for several minutes. As for the Voldemort-is-Scorpius’-real-daddy thing, don’t even get me started…

All in all, I feel the outstanding cast and crew, both past and present, have done an absolutely amazing job of bringing an average-at-best script to life, and bringing us fans back to the heart of the world that world that we love so much using an entirely different medium. This show will inspire a younger generation of theatre-goers as the books did a younger generation of avid readers. I admire every single person involved, and I can’t wait to see it all again.

Approx. running time: Part I – 2 hours 45 with interval, Part II – 2 hours 30 with interval
Date attended: July 15
Understudies: Rayxia Ojo (Rose Granger-Weasley) and Joshua Wyatt (roles including Karl Jenkins)
Closing date: open-ended, currently booking until July 2018