Magic or tragic?
Vicky Allan finds out if the new Harry Potter story has made the jump from stage to page
the irresistible, kindly outsider-geek Scorpius Malfoy, shunned son of Draco Malfoy, and Albus Potter, a self-absorbed teenager struggling with the troubles of being the “disappointing” child of celebrity Harry Potter. The appeal is also still in Harry himself, 19 years on, working in the Ministry of Magic, drowning under paperwork, unable to connect with Albus, or appreciate who he really is, even declaring, “Well, there are times I wish you weren’t my son.”
There are several common criticisms from fans. One, without giving any spoilers, is that one new character could not be someone else’s daughter. The other is that they feel Harry Potter could not possibly have been such a terrible father. But it’s this latter strand of the story that rings strikingly true, and which gives it depth and resonance. What kind of father, after all, is likely to develop out of a boy who loses his parents as a baby, is brought up by cruel relatives, then further raised in a boarding school, and ultimately has a long traumatic saga of fighting a terrifyingly dark foe? And what else has the saga been about all along, other than the failure of adults, sometimes accidental, in their care and mentoring of the young?
To the Millennial generation of fans who grew up with Potter but are not yet parents themselves, this evolution of their hero may be a tough sell. Arguably, though, it reinvents the world of Potter for the current cohort of parents who may be considering taking their children to the theatre to see the show.
That said, as a reading experience the plays do flag, frequently appearing to belong more on the stage than the page. And there is also something I can relate to in the disappointment felt by fans: The Cursed Child has the smartness, slickness and multi-audience relevance of a Hollywood screenplay. It smacks of a collaborative work done by professionals – writer Jack Thorne (Let The Right One In) and director John Tiffany (Black Watch) know how to deliver a great show. But one of the appeals of Rowling was that her incredible inventiveness was channelled into something that appeared at times a little clunky and amateurish. It was, at times, raw and sprawling, almost like a direct channel into someone’s imagination rather than a cultural product. The books appeared almost a revealed world, conjured by a single mum in a cafe, rather than a professional creation.
A show is a show. A film is a film. A book is a book. Each art form delivers differently. We knew that already. And we also knew that critics have loved this theatre show so the play is not the problem. It is indeed an impressive cultural product. That disappointment has been felt by fans is a testament to two things: the intense desire for an eighth novel, and a feeling of betrayal: that this book has in some way been oversold.
Harry Potter is a father in The Cursed Child, and not a very good one. While that makes for a fascinating read for parents some of the Millennial generation of fans may find this evolution of their hero a tough sell