⌛Where Do We Go, Where Do We Go Now...?
The Crime: Harry Potter and Cursed Child Parts One and Two Special Rehearsal Edition Script
The Guilty Party: J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne
Overview: Someone published the script for this nonsense story that is used to prop up a special-effects extravaganza of a play that feels like both apologia and ret-conning for the one plot detail that pedants can't let go of from Book 3 and OMG I CAN'T EVEN WITH THIS
Why I Hate It...
Let's be clear up front that there are a few things this post is not about. For starters, it's not about the stage show. I haven't seen the stage show. I feel confident that the story of the stage show is hot garbage, but it's clearly intended to be about the spectacle of seeing the "magic" from the Harry Potter world live and in person, and sometimes the combination of spectacle and nostalgia is enough to make up for deficiencies elsewhere. I still enjoy the first Michael Bay Transformers movie, so I can't really judge in that regard. This is also not about casting a black woman as Hermione. Color-blind casting has been the norm on Broadway for a while now, but the insistence that Hermione was always intended to be black is much like the insistence that Dumbledore was always intended to be gay. I have zero problem with it, but since it wasn't actually on the page, you don't get representation points for it.
Also, this is not about Rowling turning into a toxic anti-trans crusader. This is a real problem and she needs to stop using her platform to direct harm at friends of mine, but that's not why this script is bad. Now, it contributes to her having alienated the entire cast of the film franchise, which is why you will never see a screen adaptation of this play, but that's neither here nor there. And with all of that out of the way, let's talk about the meat of this review, which I can sum up with three words:
But why, though?
Seriously. Why was this script published? I know why, it was because the play was only running in the West End and publishing the script was a way to rake in some of those American dollars without relying on tourism, which Britain began torpedoing that very same year with the Brexit vote. But you couldn't be bothered to write a novelization? I mean, this is about the worst possible way to present this material. The main characters--Harry's son Albus, Draco's son Scorpius, and Voldemort's daughter (!!!!!) Delphi--are thinly characterized because there's no actor there to give them characterization. It's all angst and no likeability. And we got our share of that in Order of the Phoenix, so it's not like people were clamoring for more.
As for the story, it takes a while to get moving. The play is presented in four acts, and it's not until the end of Act II that things start to get interesting. In the second half, when the story wheels are really spinning, it hews very closely to the lore of the original Harry Potter series in ways that feel unoriginal and that violate the canon (for example: the whole climax at Godric's Hollow seems like it won't work with the Fedelius Charm in place, and that was a pretty big deal in the books because it was the mechanism of the Potter's betrayal, but never mind). I liked some of the ideas, but they fall apart when you think about them too much. And more than that, I want to see parts of this world that aren't just hero-worship. I don't need more Harry and Dumbledore. I've read the books and seen the films, and if I'm going to spend time here, I want to see things that haven't been recounted several times in both of those media already.
None of this is really awful, though. Plays are almost always loosely plotted. I don't like that about them, but nobody went to see Cats on Broadway for the thematic depth of the character arcs. That said, this play gets heavily into plot shenanigans, so I think it's fair game to bring it up. And this play is mostly concerned with the implications of Time-Turners, which were first introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban and have been a sticking point for morons ever since. One consistent criticism of the franchise from people who think they're smart is that if Time-Turners exist, why can't they just use one to undo all of the bad stuff that set the plot in motion? And I feel like I shouldn't have to dignify this with an answer, but instead I'll give you three.
First: because that would be boring and this is f**king fiction. Second: The Harry Potter series is pretty consistent about introducing some new magical element with every book that is central to the plot, pretending that it was always a thing, and then mostly dropping it for the next book. And that's fine. Again, a lot of this stuff isn't about elaborate world-building so much as it's about character. Patronuses are animals because having Harry's be a stag provides an easy visualization of his reconciliation with the memory of his father after spending the entire novel feeling abandoned. That's just solid storytelling right there. It doesn't matter that it's not Brandon Sanderson levels of comprehensive systemic magic.
Third, Prisoner of Azkaban is pretty clear--or at least it was clear to me--that we're dealing with Twelve Monkeys time travel rules. You can't change the past, and if you try it will just end up with some kind of deeply ironic tragic consequence because fate is inevitable. Nothing they did in the second play-through of the climax did anything but provide new context. Nothing changed, because nothing could change, because those were the rules that were established. And come on, why would Dumbledore trust children with this thing that could unmake entire timelines if he didn't already know that the plan had worked?
So, people bitching about Time-Turners is not a serious criticism and it should not be treated seriously. So Harry Potter and the Cursed Child builds its entire story around "See? If you try to fix things with Time-Turners it just makes everything worse, now give me a break about Book 3." And the resulting story manages to encapsulate the worst aspects of both prequels and sequels. The story is overly elaborate so it can work its way into as many recognizable beats as possible from other stories, but in the end it amounts to nothing because you can't actually change the big things that have already happened, and also it's all totally meaningless to anyone who isn't already invested in the franchise. That's not telling a good story. That's just paying homage to better stories while appeasing whiners.
Then there's the finicky stuff that just annoyed me. For instance, we never know who the cursed child is. There is no "I am the Half-Blood Prince" moment. There are three children who all hint that they are cursed but, because everything has to come back to Harry, it turns out that the most likely candidate is Harry himself, as his "cursing" that resulted in his scar becomes a pivotal plot element for Act IV. Which means this story is actually Harry Potter and Harry Potter. Boo! No. Stop it. There are other interesting characters in this world, surely. Also, Voldemort has a child with Bellatrix Lestrange shortly before the Battle of Hogwarts? Then why would she have been fighting there!? There is nothing in the books to make this seem plausible. And suddenly Bellatrix's death at the hands of Molly Weasely feels tragic. Why are we doing this? Gah!
Because it's just fan service, not a story that needed to be told.
For the month of May we're looking at plays! Next week, the stage version of everyone's Dad's favorite movie, Paint Your Wagon...
In CONSUMED WITH HATE, Kurt is revisiting media that he absolutely did not like one bit. See more posts.