This past summer was the last time I knew I would be at home for an extended stay. So, of course, that meant it was the perfect opportunity to rekindle the long-lost joys of the Brother-Sister Book Club. My brother and I were nothing less than PUMPED. And we jumped at the opportunity to connect over the newest addition to the wizarding world — “Harry Potter and The Cursed Child,” the script of the British blockbuster play now on London’s West End.
Funny enough, my close group of SWUGs in Branford had the same idea. Why not read the play aloud, perfecting our British accents and reminiscing over our childhood sexual awakenings with Harry and his wand? We were all excited for the dynamic characters, eloquent prose and barrel-chested centaurs (who are equine in all the right places) which J. K. Rowling would surely provide. And oh boy! Did we bond … over how sorely disappointed we were.
First of all, J. K. Rowling didn’t even write the play. She just sort of approved it. I started reading and two pages in I knew something was wrong. Yes, I should have read the cover. But there also should have been some sort of warning: “EVERYTHING YOU LOVED ABOUT J. K. ROWLING’S PROSE WILL NOT BE FOUND IN THIS PLAY.”
I know a play doesn’t lend itself to inner dialogue and beautiful descriptions of the quidditch pitch, but it doesn’t mean the characters have to be such blatantly simple archetypes. Ginny and Ron become the comedic relief, except they’re not that funny. Hermione has the chance to go beyond the tropes of womanhood — the sad lonely harpy, the exoticized warrior and the “woman who can have it all” — but merely checks them off like a grocery list. Harry is the successful suburban dad struggling to connect with his slightly deviant son.
Spoiler alert. (I’m only warning you because I know that the people nerdy enough to read this review are the kind of people who’d care about things like that.) Turns out Voldemort is a sexual being and has offspring running around somewhere in the wings. Most of the play is spent hypothesizing as to who this devil baby is. Harry Potter’s son screws up, gets too horny and tries to get with a seductress who is obviously the villain. The strong young independent women in this show are either super mean and vain or try to destroy all the goodness in the world.
The “Voldebaby” plotline led to awkward conversations between my friends and I about whether Voldemort could actually have sex. Was he well-endowed? Did Voldemort identify with the gender binary? Would any of us ever consider going down on Voldemort to see what’s in his Volde-shorts? Ok, that last one didn’t come up. But it went through my head and then I got really flushed and agitated.
The play also seems to be written for the screen rather than the stage. Don’t get me wrong, I loved reading all of the classic tricks once again: polyjuice potions, wicked wizarding battles and time travel galore. But half the time I should have spent marveling over the action, I just kept thinking, “How is this happening on stage?” Either the play has a huge pyrotechnics budget and an impeccable stage crew who can work LITERAL magic, or every audience member has to be high on shrooms.
Best of all, the play is written in two parts. Audience members consume installments across two nights. So after they are super confused from Part One, they can spend the whole next day arguing with other patrons (as I assume everyone heads over to the Three Broomsticks after the show to debate character development over a strong glass of firewhiskey). Theater is meant to be devoured in one sitting, not digested, brewed in the cauldron of one’s belly, then regurgitated like cud only to be forced down your throat once you’re tired and thought you were done chewing 24 hours earlier.
So Jack Thorne, the new J. K. Rowling, severely underperformed. That’s ok. He made me understand that sometimes good things need to die. Don’t try to revive something that already lived a good, long life. Eating something after its expiration date is not a good idea. The franchise can just stop already. Quit while you’re billions ahead in profits, you know?
But “The Cursed Child” did deliver on one thing. That’s the power of Harry Potter: the magical ability to unify people from all over the world. Way better than taking some pill in Ibiza to show Avicii how cool you are. I had some good rolling laughs with some people who mean a lot to me. I also had a good time practicing my Hagrid impersonation. “Yer a wizard, ’Arry.” Never gets old.