Five years ago, the poster to the final Harry Potter series film was emblazoned with three small words: It All Ends.
Four supplementary readers, several theme parks, merch galore, a dozen video games and the pottermore.com website later, ‘it’ has clearly far from ended. And now, there’s a play.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child opened on 31 July 2016 at Palace Theatre in London’s West End, with the script simultaneously released as a hardback book.
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a die-hard HP fan, and have read all seven books at least a dozen times. Normally, the announcement of a new book in the series – the eighth – by Rowling herself would have sent me queuing up weeks in advance waving my credit card. But this was an odd and confusing thing. A book that looked like a novel, but was set like a play; the words ‘special rehearsal edition script’ emblazoned at the top suggesting that it provisional, that it wasn’t quite ‘ready’ yet. Flagged as ‘Parts One and Two’ begs the question, what about the rest? And then there are three names, in different sizes and one of them twice, on the cover – I don’t know: it seemed like a bit of a mish-mash to fork out twenty quid on.
The play is set nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, and our eponymous hero is all grown up: an overworked employee at the Ministry of Magic, husband to his childhood sweetheart, Ginny Weasley, and father of three. The plot revolves around the Potters’ middle son, Albus, and the son of Harry’s old foe, Draco Malfoy, who is in the same year.
The chronology is a bit confusing (see later), but as far as I can make out, Albus and Scorpius Malfoy are ten or eleven years old at this point. Their friendship – and the trials that it undergoes – is at the heart of the story: a sort of pre-pubescent bro-mance which belies their tender years.
Both boys have major daddy-issues. Rumours are that Scorpius’s father is, in fact, not Draco but The Dark Lord himself. And poor old Albus is saddled not only with the world’s most famous wizard as a dad, but having been named after not one but two Hogwart’s headmasters – Dumbledore and Snape. The kids respond to these generational pressures in time-honoured fashion: by shouting, sulking and stealing a powerful magical tool to help them travel back in time and change history. Like you do.
The time-turner is the device Rowling uses in the most cleverly plotted of all her books. In Prisoner of Azkaban, a considerable amount of time is spent explaining what you can and can’t do when you start messing with chronology in order to avoid killing your parents and therefore, inadvertently cancelling out your own existence.
Without giving too much away, I can reveal that in Cursed Child, the kids’ attempt to change the outcome of the Triwizard Tournament in Goblet of Fire goes – unsurprisingly – horribly wrong.
There are many dangers associated with time-travel, not least of which is that you may end up losing the plot. As things come to a dizzying head, towards the end of Part Two, Scorpius remarks that “the whole logic of prophesies is questionable”, thereby introducing a whole nother level of complexity. The end result has more twists than a plateful of tagliatelle.
The reviews of the play have been, almost uniformly, brilliant. If you haven’t booked already – don’t bother: it’s sold out until December 2017. You can, however, read the script, enjoy the cheesy jokes, and watch the awkward hugs and the dazzling wandplay unfurl in your head: the best seat in the house.
First published in India Today, 14 Sept 2016