Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Presented at Toronto's Ed Mirvish Theatre

Evan Zimmerman

Joe Szekeres

(Note: This review is based on one of the last preview performances. With the publication of this article online, ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ will have officially opened.)

Visually resplendent with superlatively exquisite technical wizardry in ‘Cursed Child’, but is there anything else?

Yes, this rhetorical question is to hook you into reading, and I’ll answer it shortly.

I’ve only read the first two of the Potter series and have seen the first three film adaptations so I’m coming at this review not as an aficionado, but as a theatregoer. I was still able to follow the story closely for the most part. Additionally, there are excellent refresher notes in the programme so take advantage to read as much as you can before the performance begins. It also helps my invited guest and friend, Darlene, is a ‘Potter head’.

There are moments where ‘Cursed Child’ becomes jaw-droppingly engrossing for formidable technical special effects and Jamie Harrison’s mind-blowing wizardry and magical illusions. Three examples come to my mind. One is the entrance of the Dementors at the end of the first act, especially with one flying and gliding over the orchestra and stationed close to the balcony. Enchantingly and horrifically mesmerizing. Another hypnotic moment occurs visually when time travels backwards. You must see it for yourselves to experience it. The third is the entrance of some characters through the fireplace floo.

Wow!

However, I do want to point out a few things that drew my attention for concern. ‘Cursed Child’ becomes very dark as the story unfolds and I wondered if it is appropriate for young children to see. Advertising might say the show is suitable for 10+, but I strongly advise it should be 12+.

Parents, if you have already purchased tickets for young children, prepare them well, please, before arrival at the theatre. My friend, Darlene, said there was a young girl in the women’s washroom at intermission crying her eyes out and telling her mother she wanted to go home because she was so frightened. The mother was trying to calm her daughter down by saying she would be fine and that nothing would happen to her. As Darlene and I walked up the aisle at the end, we both looked around and saw many young children had fallen asleep in their chairs possibly (probably?) because of the play’s heightened emotions. Big bucks spent here, folks, so be aware and prepare if you are taking the kiddos.

Visually the production remains incredibly stunning throughout. Renovations were completed in the Ed Mirvish Theatre to accommodate the show’s staging requirements. Upon entering the auditorium for the preshow, we are at the train station and hear the customary usual sounds thanks to Gareth Fry’s designs. Christine Jones’s set design is magnificent to take in. Moving back from the proscenium arch, the house is covered in the brick found in the train stations of the United Kingdom. Neil Austin’s lighting design eerily illuminates moon ray beams ghostly reflected off the floor. I loved the flourishing and hearing the ‘whooosh’ sound of the black cloaks of the ensemble as they changed the scene settings. Katrina Lindsay remarkably captured an effusive array of colours and textures in each of the splendid costume designs.

The story begins where Harry (Trevor White) and his wife Ginny (Trish Lindstrom), Ron Weasley (Gregory Prest) and his wife Hermione (Sarah Afful) are seeing their children Albus Potter (Luke Kimball) and Rose Granger-Weasley (Hailey Lewis) off at London's King Cross Station Platform 9 ¾ to Hogwarts. It is at school where the young Albus meets the young Scorpius Malfoy (Thomas Mitchell Barnet), son of Draco Malfoy (Brad Hodder) who was Harry’s arch-rival years ago at Hogwarts. Circumstances quickly erupt and unfold which leads the young Scorpius and Albus off into a nether world of darkness, mayhem and mischief that threatens to destroy them and their families.

Just like the principal players, the supporting characters in the ensemble are also many of Canada’s finest stage actors who have appeared across Canada from Canadian Stage, Soulpepper, The Stratford Festival and The Shaw Festival to name just a few places. It was tremendously exciting to go through this list.

When I read the Covers who substitute for the listed performers, again the names there are top-notch so the production is most assuredly in capable hands going forward. I’m not going to be able to mention each of them for the sake of space.

The show most definitely belongs to Thomas Mitchell Barnet and Luke Kimball who deliver ardent performances in their character arc of development as Scorpius and Albus. Exciting to see youthful, emerging talent given their chance in this show that I’m almost certain will change the course of their professional careers.

Several supporting moments drew my attention. Steven Sutcliffe brings a touch of decency and humanity as Severus Snape in his Act Two encounter with Albus. Brad Hodder’s death-like stare as Draco Malfoy is memorable. Trish Lindstrom’s Ginny becomes that voice of calm and reason often in the face of confusion and flusters. Fiona Reid is a stately and elegant Professor McGonagall who means what she says with her students (and Ms. Reid looks as if she is having a great deal of fun with some of the wand effects she enacts). Since I’ve neither read the completed series nor watched all the films, Trevor White’s Harry Potter has come full circle for me. I only remember seeing the young lad on film and reading about him breaking a million school rules. White’s convincing performance certifies that eventually troubled young lads must begin to take responsibility as an adult and as a parent.

Director John Tiffany and Associate Director Pip Minnithorpe have magically and memorably created an enticingly surreal world of loss and trauma which threatens many lives in the story. However, the ultimate message behind ‘Cursed Child’? No matter the hardships and deep troubles that will occur in life, nothing will destroy the unconditional strength and bond of familial love.

Now to answer the question posed earlier. Along with the beguiling look and sound of ‘Cursed Child’, is there a good story told underneath all this veneer? Let’s not forget that is the prime reason why we attend the theatre – to become wrapped up in the story told by the artists.

Yes, Potter lovers will most certainly adore the story with its flash and dazzle. Theatre lovers will ask (demand?) a bit more which is what I’m doing regarding some quibbles that hopefully have been addressed.

For one, there appears to be a great deal of shouting, yelling, and screaming throughout Acts One and Two which started to hurt my ears since the actors are wearing head mics. Sound design is magnified for several of the special effects but why have actors try to do the same thing with their voices?

Was something amiss with Shawn Wright’s headpiece as Lord Voldemort? From my seat, it looked as if it wasn’t fitting his head properly and appeared just slightly askew. A sense of dreaded fear had to be felt at Voldemort’s entrance, and I wasn’t feeling any of it at that moment.

Just minor issues which I’m sure have been addressed.

Final Comments: Before I retired from my teaching career, I can recall some Ontario school boards wanted the Potter series removed from the shelves for concern about the use of ‘black magic’. After seeing ‘Cursed Child’, I can honestly say there is no cause for concern regarding this issue. The story deals with troubled father and son relationships and their eventual repair through familial and unconditional love.

That is the important message audiences leave with after seeing ‘Cursed Child’. The feats of wizardry and spectacle are a bonus.

Running time: approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.

As of the writing of this article, As of the writing of this article, the show has an open-ended run. Mask-wearing remains in effect at the theatre.

To purchase tickets, visit www.mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD
Based on an Original New Story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne & John Tiffany. A New Play by Jack Thorn
Director: John Thorn. Associate Director: Pip Minnithorpe. Movement Director: Steven Hoggett. Set Designer: Christine Jones. Costume Designer: Katrina Lindsay. Lighting Designer: Neil Austin. Sound Designer: Gareth Fry. Illusions & Magic: Jamie Harrison. Music Supervisor & Arranger: Martin Lowe. Hair, Wigs & Make-Up: Carole Hancock.

The Company: Sarah Afful, Kaleb Alexander, Thomas Mitchell Barnet, Michael Chiem, Mark Crawford, Raquel Duffy, Sara Farb, Bryce Fletch, Brad Hodder, Luke Kimball, Hailey Lewis, Trish Lindstrom, Lucas Meeuse, Kyle Orzech, Gregory Prest, Fiona Reid, Katie Ryerson, Yemie Sonuga, Steven Sutcliffe, Brendan Wall, Trevor White, David D’Lancy Wilson, Shawn Wright.

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