In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, one character says, "Playing with time? You know we can't do that."
Turns out they can — and so can all the Potter fans who have been longing for a new story about the wizarding world created by author J.K. Rowling. Cursed Child explores the lives of many of the beloved characters in her seven novels, as well as an array of new ones, in the present and the past. It illuminates the stories we knew and builds upon them in ways that will delight many of Rowling's millions of fans.
Fair warning No. 1: Cursed Child is not a novel. It is the script of a play and as such is mainly dialogue, without much of the intricate world-building that makes the novels so captivating. Rowling developed the story with playwright Jack Thorne and director John Tiffany; Thorne gets the writer's credit, but Cursed Child is of a piece with the novels.
The play premiered in London on Saturday to glowing reviews, after more than a month in previews. Audiences view it in two parts, either a matinee plus an evening performance or over two consecutive nights, totaling just over five hours of performance time, into which a lot of plot is packed. Tickets are sold out through May 2017. Rowling has said she hopes it moves to Broadway and beyond, but that will probably be a matter of several years. (She has said she doesn't want to see it turned into a movie.)
Fair warning No. 2: Rowling has encouraged audiences to "keep calm and keep the secrets," and I agree — there are some delicious ones, and I'm not going to give them away. But I am going to describe some of the things that happen in Cursed Child, so if you want to be an absolutely unspoiled blank slate when you read or see it, stop reading this second.
All right then.
Cursed Child opens right where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left off, almost 20 years after the Battle of Hogwarts. At King's Cross Station, Platform 9 ¾, Harry and Ginny Potter are seeing their two older children, James and Albus, off to Hogwarts. (Daughter Lily is too young.) Old friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, now married, are there, too, with daughter Rose.
It's clear from the start that there is tension between Harry and Albus, the middle child of the family. The boy is worried about his first year at Hogwarts, a fear magnified by his resentment at living in his famous father's shadow.
Harry has his own worries as the overworked Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic — where Hermione, now head of the ministry, is his boss. And he lives in the shadow of his past as well, racked with survivor's guilt that's sharpened when an anguished character asks him, "How many people have died for the Boy Who Lived?"
When a magical means for rewriting the past turns up, it tempts both father and son, and puts the play's propulsive plot in motion. It's also powered by Albus' growing friendship with an unlikely ally: Scorpius Malfoy, son of Harry's old nemesis Draco. Albus, we learn, has not fallen far from the parental tree, but Scorpius is nothing like his dour dad — he's a sweetly goofy charmer.
Cursed Child moves back and forth between the adult characters — it's especially effective in portraying the two marriages, Harry and Ginny's sometimes tense, Ron and Hermione's warmly affectionate — and the younger ones, as Albus and Scorpius form a familiar triad with a rather mysterious young woman named Delphi Diggory.
It also moves back and forth in time. The time-traveling trope allows the play to bring back familiar characters, sometimes in surprising ways. But as anyone who's read fantasy or science fiction about going back to change the past knows, it rarely works out well, and in Cursed Child it has enormous consequences that will require all the magic two generations of heroes can muster as a new enemy arises.
As a reading experience, Cursed Child has much to recommend it. The characters are vividly drawn, and the plot is full of great twists yet consistent with the earlier stories.
But its main effect on me was to make me want to head to London. The stage directions are filled with tantalizing hints about the play's staging and special effects, which reviewers and audiences have applauded as spectacular. (One scene involving a room full of weaponized bookcases made me want a set for my house.)
Cursed Child might not be quite a magical as Rowling's novels, but it's enough to hold me until I find a spell for putting one of those tickets into my hand.
Contact Colette Bancroft at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.