MARAUDERS BEWARE: Spoilers ahead! I won’t mention any major plot points, but will be discussing the three main reasons you should see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child if you can get tickets (good luck with that though…). So in the spirit of #KeepTheSecrets 🤐 , if you don’t want forewarning even of themes, motifs, characters, magical creatures or artefacts involved, don’t read on. Scroll past the pretty picture for the semi-spoilers.
It’s the oddest play I’ve ever seen. Not in a bad way. It’s just totally different to the Shakespeare I’m used to (yup, theatre noob here). The theatre format suits long, intense conversations, single or few locations, and a concentrated time period. This play is not only digestible in two instalments (and no, you can’t see one without seeing the other and yes, it absolutely matters that you see part 1 first) – is it one play or two?! – but scenes crisscross each other in quick succession, traversing a total of forty years, and a number of different (familiar!) locations. Frankly, a couple of the jumps in time and the quick progression left me confused. You get a little fourth-wall-bending as well: nasty creatures (I won’t say what) swoop terrifyingly around the theatre more than once. And if you were asking yourself how on earth a magical world in which people can summon fire, move objects, fly, levitate things, levitate each other, disappear under an Invisibility Cloak, transfigure faces and figures via spells or potions, can possibly be represented with any verisimilitude or immersive power in a flesh-and-blood theatre – just think again.
If you ever struggled to understand the concept of possible worlds, beloved of analytic philosophers, or for some reason are called to explain them to a child, go to/take them to this play. You get to compare alternative possible worlds, how things could have been, to the actual world and see the impact of the smallest personal choices in shaping the future. Which brings me to …
Ethical primer (we’re all evil)
This play is also good if you want to teach a recalcitrant child the impact of his/her bad behaviour. The smallest choices shape the future of the world, but also shape you as a person. JK shows how one of the most beloved, heroic and friendly characters from the books could, with just a few tweaks to his external circumstances, have easily turned out proud and cruel a few choices later. There are no good or bad people. We don’t get to clutch our pearls before the terrorists and foxhunters and thank the stars we’re better than them. There are only good and bad choices, and even those that seem the most innocuous can damage or heal in unforeseen ways.
One of the most striking moments of moral decision-making knocked my anti-consequentialist instincts quite hard. One of my favourite objections to a certain type of consequentialism (i.e. the moral system that roughly says an action is right if it has good consequences) is that you can never know, at the point of making your decision, what consequences will result. One of the characters is forced to witness a double murder. Now, due to plot details I won’t go into, this character is in the position of knowing that the murders will permanently mess him up, interfere with his family life and ultimately risk apocalyptic consequences. (Plus, two people unjustly lose their lives.) He is in a position to prevent the murders from happening. Yet he also knows that doing so will, as a matter of fact, lead to other apocalyptic consequences. Preventing a murder and preventing good, innocent people from dying seems like an eminently correct thing to do, regardless of the consequences, right? And yet even I don’t see that he could have done other than stand by 😔
And this leads me to …
Bonus point of interest: Christian imagery
I’ve always been convinced Harry Potter is a (potentially unintentional) Christian allegory. I mean, c’mon: boy has mission, has to sacrifice his life to save mankind, is resurrected, defeats evil. If this wasn’t clear enough, the Cursed Child partly dénoues in a church under a stained glass sacred heart: love is sacrifice is always JK’s message.
It was an original story (like, on the level of one of the longer books), but it relied heavily upon plot detail from one of the previous books, which would confuse novices. Ultimately, however, I don’t think this was a bad thing – it wasn’t just a rehash, but an original adventure with new characters and fresh perils, infused with nostalgia. Frankly, I would have been happy watching the Granger-Weasleys discuss cauldron import regulations over a Sunday roast. I wasn’t prepared for the complex feast I got instead, but it was great. It terrified me, and it moved me, not quite to the sniffs and tears of my neighbours, but almost. The wisdom and values were classic JK: wholesome, and quite profound, fun for all the family. Well worth its 9 Oliviers!