Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (SPOILERS)

Reviews

I recently finished reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and like everyone else, I had a lot of opinions about it. The points below are ones that I thought of when I was reading the play – I’ve since read other people’s criticisms which I also agree with, but as these are other people’s ideas and not my own I’ve left them out.


SUMMARY

TITLE: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

AUTHOR: Jack Thorne (Originally based on a story by J.K Rowling, John Tiffany and the author)

GENRE: Fantasy

PLOT: Albus Potter doesn’t enjoy Hogwarts as much as his father, Harry, did. This causes a rift between them, which isn’t helped by Albus becoming best friends with Scorpius, the son of Draco Malfoy, Harry’s old enemy. Albus overhears Amos Diggory, Cedric Diggory’s father, beg Harry to use a Time-Turner that is in the Ministry’s possession to go back in time and stop Cedric dying. Albus is encouraged by Delphini Diggory, Amos’s niece, to steal the Time-Turner in order to save Cedric.

 


BAD POINTS

THE PLOT: Noting the plot as the bad point of anything really isn’t a good start. The main story of the play is Albus and Scorpius using a Time-Turner to go back in time to stop Cedric from dying, because…because reasons. Because Albus fancied Delphini Diggory, and because he wanted to get back at his dad, I guess. From this point the play unfolds into the most predictable time-travel plot imaginable: you go back in time to try and stop something from happening, you come back and everything’s messed up, you go back and try again but you just mess it up more…you get the gist. It’s a trope that’s been overused, and it’s tired. The Wizarding World is a large and fascinating place – that’s why we all fell in love with it to begin with. As a writer, getting to play around in that world and create a new story from it is such an exciting opportunity…and this is what they came up with? Really?

RON: I’m a huge Ron fan so his portrayal was a huge disappointment to me. His character was absolutely useless. If you had never heard of Harry Potter before and you were reading the play, you’d wonder why on Earth he was there. He was fat and made bad jokes. That was it. Brave, loyal, loving, able to bring out the best in Harry…nope, just fat and bad jokes. Oh, and he does threaten to give Malfoy a “smack in the mouth” as well. The great friendship that existed between Ron and Harry just isn’t shown, but this isn’t much of a surprise as we barely get to see Ron at all – compared to characters such as Draco and even Professor McGonagall, he’s shunted into the role of a very minor, comic relief character.

GINNY: I was never a huge fan of Ginny in the books. Nothing especially, she just got on my nerves a bit. But at least she had a character. In The Cursed Child she is reduced to a basic “Supportive Wife”. Her role seems to be to listen to Harry’s troubles patiently. The only time she does anything else is when she delivers this stellar line: “I can forgive you for one mistake Harry, maybe even two, but the more mistakes you make, the harder to forgive you it becomes”. This line just sounded so robotic to me. It also didn’t match what we know of Ginny from the books. The Ginny of the books would have sat Harry down and told him exactly what she thought a long time ago, rather than sitting by passively while he told Albus sometimes he wished he wasn’t his son, or threatened Professor McGonagall (both of which are out of character for Harry also, but more on that later).

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Jamie Parker and Poppy Miller as Harry and Ginny in the West End production of The Cursed Child. Source: Vanity Fair

HARRY: There are so many problems with Harry’s character in this play that it’s difficult to unpick them all:

  1. Harry tells Albus that sometimes he wishes he wasn’t his son. We all know Harry has a temper, but this seems unduly harsh – and for little reason. We know that Albus has trouble at Hogwarts and that Harry finds this hard to understand, because of how much he loved his time at the school. Harry also gives a vague reason for saying what he said because “he wishes Albus were more like James or Lily [Harry’s other two children]”. As we rarely see James and Lily, this isn’t especially helpful. Showing that Harry and his son have a complicated relationship like any normal parent and child is absolutely fine, but the jump from a complicated relationship to “sometimes I wish you weren’t my son” is just too great, and not very well explained.
  2. Harry doesn’t like Albus being friends with Scorpius. Um…why? Why would Harry care that his son was friends with Malfoy’s son? At the end of The Deathly Hallows it’s pretty clear that Harry no longer bears any ill-feeling towards Malfoy. They’re certainly not friends, but Ron is the one who seems to be keeping up the grudge, not Harry. So why does Harry care? Maybe it’s because Harry really believes the rumours that Scorpius is Voldemort’s son. He even questions Draco about it. Harry. Harry, who had to contend with vicious rumours throughout his entire time at Hogwarts, and knows just how damaging and how loosely founded on fact they tend to be. Again, it just doesn’t make sense. If anything Harry, who knows more than anyone the importance of friendship, would welcome Scorpius with open arms, and be relieved and happy that his son had found a friend. And that’s not me looking at Harry through rose-tinted glasses. Throughout the books we see how Harry always sees the best in people. He gets told on multiple occasions that he is too trusting – by Hermione, Sirius, Lupin and Mr Weasley. When Ernie MacMillan apologises to Harry for calling him the Heir of Slytherin, Harry forgives him without a second thought. When he sees Stan Shunpike with the Death Eaters in The Deathly Hallows, he won’t attack him because he refuses to believe that Stan could be a Death Eater, certain that he must be under the Imperius curse. This is when he’s fighting for his life, and everyone around him could betray him (and in some cases they do). So his being annoyed over something so small as his son being friends with Draco’s son, years later when he’s happy and settled…I don’t buy it.
  3. Harry threatens Professor McGonagall. This scene made me angrier than any other. It involves Harry threatening Professor McGonogall that if she doesn’t keep Albus and Scorpius apart (due to a very vague premonition from a centaur), he’ll bring the Ministry down on her. It is as ridiculous as it sounds. Harry respects Professor McGonagall. He wouldn’t threaten her, let alone make a snide remark about her never having children. And what makes it even worse is that she hardly puts up a fight! It goes against her entire character. I know this scene takes place in the first alternate reality, so this Harry may be slightly different to the Harry we know and love, but if that was the case then this should have been made clear to us. This is a problem that runs throughout the play. Jack Thorne seems to think that “people change when they grow up” is enough of a reason for the changes in these characters, but it isn’t. If you’re going to change characters drastically that are loved by millions, you should have a good reason as to why.

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Source: My Instagram, feel free to check it out! 🙂

GOOD POINTS

SCORPIUS: I loved this character – he was probably the play’s saving grace for me, as I believe he was for a lot of readers. Sweet, loyal and clever, he’s a good friend to Albus and remains patient with him when a lot of people wouldn’t. He always sees the best in people, even Rose Granger-Weasley (who’s pretty awful).

DRACO: I hate to say it but the Malfoys really outshine the Potters in this book. If the play had just been about Scorpius and Draco it probably would have been a lot more enjoyable. I loved seeing a different side to Malfoy. Watching him come to terms with being a father whilst struggling with the Malfoy name and the legacy that comes with it made him a much more well thought-out and relatable character than Harry. This was one of my favourite moments whilst reading The Cursed Child:

Harry: What did you want to do?

Draco: Quidditch. But I wasn’t good enough. Mainly I wanted to be happy. […] Astoria [Draco’s wife, who died] always knew that she wasn’t destined for old age. She wanted me to have somebody when she left, because… it is exceptionally lonely, being Draco Malfoy.

I thought this was really poignant, and I was disappointed that we didn’t get to see Draco mend his relationship with his son at the end of the play.

THE BLANKET: Harry reveals that he now has the blanket that he was found wrapped up in when he was a baby. It was in Aunt Petunia’s possession and after she died, and Dudley sent it to Harry. I thought this was a really nice touch and liked the continuation of Dudley and Harry’s hesitant relationship from the books.

THE SCENE WITH HAGRID: At the end of the play, the cast are in Godric’s Hollow after successfully stopping Delphi Diggory (who, it turns out, is Voldemort and Bellatrix Lestrange’s daughter. Make of that what you will). They decide that before they go back in time, they’re going to stick around and watch Harry’s parents get murdered (because reasons). After this we see the ruins of the house, and Hagrid enters the stage to pick up tiny baby Harry and take him to the Dursleys. Everything has come full circle. Again, it was a nice touch.


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Crowds gather outside The Cursed Child in the West End. Source: The Mirror

I think some of the problems with The Cursed Child are due to the hype that was created around it. Defenders of the play have pointed out that it is in fact a play, and therefore some liberties are going to be taken due to dramatic interpretation. This is all very well and good, but this isn’t how The Cursed Child was marketed. J.K Rowling stated it was canon, the cover states that it is based on a short story by J.K and two others – the fact that it is a play by Jack Thorne is in slightly smaller writing underneath. J.K Rowling’s name is still the biggest on the cover. If that isn’t enough to convince you, the book has “The eighth story. Nineteen years later.” on the back of it. It doesn’t get much clearer than that.

Upon reading it is very clear that the play is not canon. Clearly J.K Rowling gave Jack Thorne permission to create a dramatic interpretation of her characters for the stage. This in itself is fine. When you judge the play for what it is it’s not that bad – I’m sure it will have been exciting to watch in the theatre. The problem is is that J.K Rowling, or her marketing team, or whoever, decided to start marketing the play as another installment in the series. It was made clear that it was the script of a play, so it wasn’t going to be an eighth novel in the standard format, but nevertheless The Cursed Child was still marketed as a Harry Potter book, endorsed by J.K herself – which of course was going to lead to disappointment and anger when fans finally got to read the book. There probably wouldn’t have sold as many copies if they had marketed the play for what it really was – as I’m sure The Cursed Child’s marketing team is very much aware.

All dramatic interpretation aside, I still think lots of The Cursed Child’s crimes are unforgivable. It’s readable, but it won’t be sitting with the other Harry Potters on my bookshelf.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

Featured image source: The Official Cursed Child Website

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Common People?

Articles

She came from Greece, she had a thirst for knowledge,

She studied sculpture at St Martin’s College,

That’s where I caught her eye.

Common People by Pulp is one of my favourite songs. If you haven’t heard it, it describes an encounter the singer/songwriter Jarvis Cocker actually had with a girl he met, who told him she wanted to “live like common people/I want to do whatever common people do/I want to sleep with common people/I want to sleep with common people like you”. It’s a good song to dance to at a party, but it’s also full of emotion and anger. It’s full of anger with the girl in the song but also with all those like her. Those who “will never understand/How it feels to live your life/With no meaning or control/And with nowhere left to go”.  But even when I was drunk and belting out the words, I always felt an uncomfortable twinge – almost of guilt. Because I didn’t feel I was “common” enough to be singing the song so angrily. The song tells the girl that if she wants to be common as she declares then she should “rent a flat above a shop/Cut your hair and get a job/Smoke some fags and play some pool/Pretend you never went to school”.  This describes the sort of life I never knew growing up. I’ve never smoked, playing pool infers spending the weekend in the local pub which is not my thing, and I most definitely went to school, in my Clarks shoes no less, the ultimate symbol of being a middle-class goody-two-shoes.

Now I’m older, however, I feel I’m a little more qualified to being “common”. I realise how little money my parents had while I was growing up, despite our big house – all of our clothes were from car-boot sales, or hand-me-downs.  You can trace the same outfits in old photos from my oldest cousin, to my older sister, to me, and finally, very worn, to my little sister. I also definitely felt poor (if, as the song suggests, you must be poor in order to be common) when I was a student, and I’ve scraped by on benefits several times since leaving uni.

I said pretend you got no money,

She just laughed and said “Oh you’re so funny”

I said, “Yeah? Well I can’t see anyone else smiling in here”

   Now I’ve written all of this down, I realise what a bizarre notion it all is. I don’t know if this is the same in other countries, but in the UK growing up there was a fine balancing act you had to maintain in order to be seen as ‘cool’ – to have enough money to buy every new trend, but not so much you were seen as ‘posh’. As the song says, some people “think that poor is cool”. Clearly I must be one of them – even if purely because I felt it was something I was excluded from.

So what does it mean to be “common”? Is it just another word for “poor”? Or “ordinary”? I searched the internet for answers. Most definitions were negative – “not rare”, “without special rank or position”, “falling below ordinary standards”, “lacking refinement”, and for the phrase ‘common people’: “characterised by a lack of privilege or special status”. The more positive ones emphasised a sense of sharing and belonging: “belonging to or involving the whole of a community or the public at large”. The example given is common land, but I wonder if the same can be said of a public mentality? Maybe being “common” simply means “one of the people”. Maybe you are only “common” if you feel you are.

I have been thinking about all of this even more so recently because of the recent UK election result. The Conservative party won. The kindest view of the Conservatives is that they are well-educated with a focus on the economy and a good financial plan. The harshest is that they are privileged, rich, predominantly white men who don’t care about ordinary people. I tend towards the latter view. Despite being devastated by the election result, I felt such a sense of solidarity with the people around me – my Facebook feed was full of people with the same view as me, there were riots outside Downing Street, and the North was (and still is)clamouring  to join the more liberal Scotland. For once I did feel “common” – just part of one group who were truly angry against a state that didn’t understand them. And that is the feeling that Common People gives you – especially when you’re all out in a big group, shouting the words. It’s a song that makes you feel that it is us and them.

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Poster of David Cameron burning a fifty pound note in Manchester.

But who are them? The rich? The successful? And if so, what does that make Jarvis Cocker now? Pulp sold over 10 million records, and Cocker has since done well in several areas, including having his own BBC Radio 6 live slot. Does he still feel like a common person? I also wonder about J.K Rowling – now a billionaire, Rowling is still a Labour supporter, vocally and financially, and it is clear from her interviews she still holds close the times when she was poor, a single mum and trying to get Harry Potter published. So is being common just a state of mind? My grandma, who was a teacher and married to a head teacher, and who also now has a comfortable pension with a large house, grew up in a poor Northern factory family. Five minutes of conversation with her and it is clear she still associates herself adamantly with the North, and the working class.

Laugh along with the common people,

Laugh along even though they’re laughing at you

And the stupid things that you do

Cos you think that poor is cool

   So, what does it mean to be common? Is it just a lack of money? Or a state of mind? Or a political stance? I suppose the whole dilemma is similar to one we all face: wanting to be unique, special and individual, but desperately wanting to fit in. Wanting to show the world how talented you are, but not wanting to lose that sense of belonging with those around you.

As for me, I realise this is a much more tangled and complex argument than I originally thought. But I won’t feel guilty listening to Pulp again.

Sing along with the common people, sing along and it might just get you through…

(Featured image from Raumrot)


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