Warning: Limited spoilers if you’re picky
I’m a great believer of letting a good thing go. If only TV series writers knew when to stop, I often moan. How often does a tightly conceived, perfectly peopled, sharply written series dissolve into natural disasters and sheer impossibility if left to drag on for too long? (I’m looking at you, Grey’s Anatomy. And as for you, Prison Break – you should be ASHAMED.) Luckily books manage to avoid this in the most part; series are generally conceived from the start and rolled out over an expected number of installments, however many years that may take (George R R Martin).
Harry Potter did fit this mould, but has made a recent, stark change with the sudden publication of the script for its impossible-to-buy-a-ticket West End show, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Harry Potter fans will recall that the books end in a rosy haze on platform 9 3/4, waving the next generation off to a beloved school, all shacked up and happily ever after. Well, people, wave that happiness aside. Because Harry DOESN’T grow up fulfilled and at peace: no, now we know that world-saviour or not, he becomes a bit of a sad sack. Tortured by nightmares, a frankly crap Father…it was all a bit much. I mean, it’s certainly a dose of realism, and what else could you expect from the mind of the horrendous, benighted, recipient of Most-Hated-Book-Ever-in-the-Room-of-Joy The Casual Vacancy. But I’d rather have it left all sunny and happy really.
It’s rather unnerving that it isn’t written by Rowling, as Thorne certainly does a remarkable imitation job – it has that trademark Rowling feel. The elements that, in my opinion, produced the charm and genius of Harry Potter are there: tremendous inventiveness, eye for detail and a totally realised different world. But her downfalls are there too, in the form of highly overwrought plotting. And while the books more or less managed to keep this balance in check (arguably increasingly failing in the latter installments), the play has a SUPER complicated plot.
I hope it isn’t a spoiler to say that the events of this play are intricately wrapped around the Triwizard Tournament of book 4. Now that’s a strong choice: many feel it to be the best book, and it’s got great drama. But wouldn’t it have been more fun to have it … fresh? The Triwizard Tournament of the future, with fresh challenges – rather than mind-bending wrapping around the old story? I felt like there was a lack of willingness – perhaps confidence? – to take a decisive step into the future, but this is surely the move that would have let this play stretch its wings and fly.
That’s not to say there aren’t some delightful moments. Sweets, tricks, burgeoning friendships, the nastiness of teenagers, are all dropped in with a light touch. There’s some great humour in the imaginings of parallel alternate worlds in which Ron and Hermione aren’t married, and long for each other desperately. And it certainly seems suited to the stage – there’s a lot of adventure sequences and rather bewildering action that by all accounts are tremendously successful live, though tricky to follow in a script.
But while it may well fly on stage, with all the jiggery-pokery that stagecraft can shake a stick at, it feels long, complicated and hobbled on the page. I say give me fresh Potter – like the upcoming film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – not intricate embellishments to the old.