Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: the Play
Updated: Nov 29, 2019
Harry Potter is huge in this household. I mean, HUGE! Back in the day, when each book first came out, my friends and I would devour it in days. Days of discussion followed. When the next book in the series was to be released, we would re-read the previous one to refresh our memories before the plot thickened further. What brilliant, beautiful books, so creative and wise.
Being a huge fan, naturally, I showed my daughter the entire set of books when she was old enough to read, telling her they were terrific stories and she might like to read them. There were already movies based on the books by the time she was born. I established a rule: she could only watch a movie after she had read the book. She took this to heart, and did indeed read each book before watching the movie. And the movies! They sure do the books justice, which is not always the case. Shakespearean actors! It doesn’t get much better than that.
My daughter took to reading and re-reading each book. It became her default reading material anytime she was looking for something to read. There are times when I, her father and her grandfather have said “Harry Potter again?!” As of now, she has read each of the seven books 10 times. She’s quite an authority on Harry Potter, and apparently even has an Instagram page devoted to The Boy Who Lived, where she posts quizzes and such. So now you know exactly how huge Harry Potter is in this household.
In 2016, we were on a summer holiday which included visiting an old friend of mine in Ohio, going to the Niagara Falls, and exploring a national park that my daughter had done her summer project on: the Cuyahoga Valley National Park in Ohio. During that trip, at a bookstore, we saw the recently released “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” and of course, bought it. We took turns reading it. Later that year, “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” was released in the movie theaters, and of course we watched it. That story went far back in time, back to when Dumbledore was a young man. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child goes forward, starting with the Epilogue in the seventh book “The Deathly Hallows,” 19 years after the Battle of Hogwarts.
The play is in two parts, each about 2 ½ hours long. Tickets for San Francisco performances became available in the spring of this year. I was glued to the computer screen for a good chunk of time each day, trying to figure out how and when to see it. I decided that we ought to watch both parts on the same day, and have dinner in between. Make a day of it! The challenge was that I had no idea of my daughter’s school schedule so far in advance. She was to start high school only about six months later, and I had to look at the calendar of the school she wasn’t even attending yet to make sure any date I picked wouldn’t be on a day when they had exams! The earliest date that worked reasonably well in terms of availability and cost was a weekday: Wednesday, November 20th.
It turned out that Sunaina would need to leave school at 11am, so we would have enough time to get to San Francisco, to the Curran Theater. I called the school office a couple of days earlier to notify them of her early departure. The staff member at the attendance office asked me the reason. A family event, I responded quickly, thinking to myself, in this family, a play on Harry Potter is most definitely a family event.
I had booked a parking spot using ParkWhiz at the Hilton Union Square, a short walk away from the Curran theater. We arrived at the theater at 1pm, checked in, picked up the playbill as well as a souvenir program, some refreshments, and then waited for the doors to open.
There were people dressed in robes, and with scarves in Gryffindor or Slytherin colors.
My daughter and I had chosen to wear whatever we had that were in Gryffindor colors. I had a maroon sweater, and she had maroon leggings. The staff were attired in Harry Potter clothes, sporting pins as well. A large LCD screen in the lobby announced the program.
We entered to see the train station on stage, with smoke or mist wafting around.
Soon after 2 PM, the lights dimmed, and the magic began. Harry and Ginny were at the train station, ready to send off their youngest, Albus, to Hogwarts for the first time along with their older children James and Lily. Harry is now Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic.
Albus is anxious, afraid that he might be sorted into Slytherin House. Being the son of Harry Potter weighs heavily on him. His father tries to reassure him. Here is the section from the epilogue of “The Deathly Hallows.”
And here is the script of the play.
Rose Granger-Weasley comes along, daughter of Hermione and Ron, and as full of spunk as her mother, who is now the Minister for Magic. Off the students go on Hogwarts Express where Albus befriends Scorpius Malfoy, son of his father’s arch enemy Draco Malfoy.
To his shock, Albus is indeed sorted into Slytherin. And the story unfolds of Albus trying to prove himself, to live up to his famous father’s name.
Where to begin with the numerous ways in which this production is just extraordinary? There are so many occasions when I asked, “How on earth did they do that?!”
First, the time travel. There’s a lot of it in this play. The first instance is of Albus wanting to go back in time to “fix” things. There are several clocks on stage, which all spin backward as this happens. What’s really magical is the lighting. As the time travel begins, everything on stage seems to melt. I was completely in awe the first few times this happened, unable to figure out how it was being done. On paying close attention, it was clear that the lighting was being masterfully adjusted to create that effect.
Various people appear in a fireplace: flue powder, of course, and this is quite captivating. What completely flummoxed me is how people simply disappear in a phone booth. One minute they’re standing in front of the telephone and next their robes are just being sucked into it. Amazing. And then there’s the Polyjuice portion. Watching actors transform into another person on stage after just pulling the robes over their heads is mind-boggling.
And the Dementors. Absolutely chilling, and every bit as terrifying as in the books, the movies and one’s imagination. Three of them appear, hover on stage and above the audience, and let out those creepy, heart-stopping high-pitched screams. I could swear I even felt cold when they appeared. They lift some people off the stage and carry them off, rising and disappearing from the stage. How do they do that?! If there were wires, harnesses and such to safely lift people off the stage, they were not visible.
And then, the robes! The choreography for the transitions between scenes was tremendous. The Hogwarts students danced on stage flipping their cloaks with flair and precision. The whoosh of cloaks was performed often throughout the show, and was captivating each time.
In 2015, Sunaina and I had gone to New York for our summer holiday. She had just performed in The Lion King in the school summer drama program. So I thought we would look into tickets for The Lion King on Broadway! I was shocked by how much they cost, but also resigned to the expense for this rare opportunity. We were both completely floored by the production: the costumes, the movements, the acting, the singing and of course the beautiful music. That was the most elaborately staged performance we had seen. Until this one. I have absolutely never seen anything like this. It is breathtaking, magical.
A word about the dialogue. The writing in the Harry Potter books is simply superb. The dialogue is engaging, and the pronouncements of Dumbledore etc. are quite profound. There seems to be a little more of popular psychology in Cursed Child. Harry is trying to figure out how to be a good dad to Albus.
By the time the first part ended, thanks to Albus’s well-meant efforts, the past had been changed, and Voldemort was back in power. Yikes.
We went off to have dinner at King of Thai Noodle House on O’Farrell Street. We polished off the delicious Rice Noodle soup, Pad Thai and a fried tofu appetizer, discussing various aspects of the play.
When we went back to the theater for the second part, the mood was decidedly darker. The ushers startled us with their greeting, “Happy Voldemort Day!” They were wearing Voldemort pins with the dark mark on their black outfits, not the bright Harry Potter pins anymore. The LCD screen too displayed the dark mark, and it was also on stage. We settled in for what was to come next.
Dolores Umbridge in a fabulous pink costume and pink wig was now headmistress of Hogwarts. Severus Snape stood with his back to the audience at the opening of one scene, and the audience just went wild with delight and applause at seeing this familiar, much-maligned figure. Dumbledore too showed up in a portrait a few times, and was also warmly greeted by the audience.
The creepy Dementors came by to scare everyone again. Delphi Diggory’s true identity was revealed. Harry and Albus found a way to understand each other more. The frightening changes in the past were reversed, and history reverted to what it had been. Order was restored to the world: to Muggles and magical folk.
Hugely impressed, we trooped out of the theatre around 10pm, and headed home. No amount of magic could change the fact that the next day was, after all, a school day.