'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child': What the Critics Are Saying About London Play

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ (All photos: Manuel Harlan)

Harry Potter fans have been lining up in London for weeks to catch previews of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts I & II, the eighth installment in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy series — and the first to be conceived not as a novel (or film), but as a play. With the stage show’s official July 30 premiere at the Palace Theatre in London’s West End fast approaching (and accompanying book out on July 31), mainstream media reviews have finally arrived. The consensus? Those clamoring for more Potter will be well-served by this next chapter in the epic tale, written for the stage by Jack Thorne from a story co-conceived with Rowling. The play, directed by John Tiffany and staged in two parts that span over five hours. is set 19 years after The Deathly Hallows and concerns Harry and his son Albus Severus Potter. With no spoilers ahead, here’s a round-up of the (mostly) sterling early notices.

Ben Brantley, The New York Times 
“[It] is the kind of play that you want to describe in detail, if only to help you figure out how it achieves what it does. That would be a kind of magic that is purely theatrical yet somehow channels the addictive narrative grip of Ms. Rowling’s prose… Its plot is built on a fantasy that most of us indulge from early childhood: What if we could rewrite our own histories?… Like the novels that preceded it, “The Cursed Child” is stuffed with arcana-filled plots that defy diagrams and baldly wrought sentimental life lessons, along with anguished dives into the earnest, tortured solipsism of adolescence. By rights, such a combination should try the patience of any grown-up. But like Ms. Rowling’s books, the play vanquishes resistance.”

Michael Billington, Guardian 
“I am happy to divulge that John Tiffany, as director of this pair of two-and-a-half-hour plays, has masterminded a thrilling theatrical spectacle… If I’m honest, I got as much pleasure from the staging as from the convoluted story. Tiffany and his designer, Christine Jones, have created magic out of the simplest ingredients… while it helps to be a paid-up Potterhead, Tiffany and his team stage the piece with such dazzling assurance that I finally began to see the point of being wild about Harry.”

Matt Trueman, Variety 
“It is, quite simply, spellbinding: The Show That Lived Up to Expectations — and Then Some. Three years after J.K. Rowling announced her boy wizard would hit the stage, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” — no mere rehash, but a whole new chapter — proves a proper theatrical blockbuster. Not just at the box office, but onstage as well: a captivating story given a spectacular staging and — Rowling’s specialty — a big, big heart. Twenty years ago, Harry Potter turned a generation onto reading. “The Cursed Child” could do the same for theater.” 

James Hibberd, Entertainment Weekly 
“Author J.K. Rowling, working with London theatre veterans Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, have delivered a production that’s as spectacular as it is ambitious, stuffed with special effects and twists that had a preview audience gasping. Cursed Child is a story that doesn’t play it safe with the Potter canon and will change how fans see certain favorite characters forever… All the components are there for greatness, but this not-final preview version I saw last week was a potion that the perfectionistic Severus Snape would brew longer before serving up… Yet there’s something comfortably familiar about the excess too.”

Leslie Felperin, The Hollywood Reporter
“Surprisingly, it turns out that the medium of theater is a better fit for the material than film, because in a theater magic tricks really look, well, magical… The result is an entrancing theatrical event that generously serves fans and newcomers alike. While purists might grumble about the colonization of yet another stage in the West End by a property that originated in another medium, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has originality, craft and charm that will help to hook a new generation of mainstream theatergoers.”

Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph 
“Those involved can give themselves a pat on the back. It’s a triumph. Not an unqualified one — there are some quibbles — but in all key respects, it grips, it stirs, it delights… There are reservations, as I’ve implied (for one thing, the male roles are far better fleshed out than the female ones; we see too little, for instance, of Ron and Hermione’s daughter Rose), but to labour those failings would be to miss the point. The big news is that this is just what was needed, will raise the benchmark for family entertainment for years to come and may even usher in a whole cycle of Potter-world stories. “Keep the Secret” runs the show’s fearsome audience campaign to stay shtum about the surprises. But as for its merits overall: spread the word, by owl or any other means.”

Kate Maltby, Wall Street Journal 
“Thanks to the presence of some of Britain’s most talented theater makers, including Mr. Tiffany, and a bevy of heartfelt performances, the latest addition to the Potter canon makes a surprising case for the restorative power of theater. Perhaps Dumbledore was wrong to dismiss illusions. The script, to be published separately on July 31, won’t do the show justice… The play may not be perfect. The long queue for the merchandising desk, ushered over two stories of the building, hints at a motivation beyond the purely artistic. But it is real theater, not froth. For those who grew up on —and with — Harry Potter, it will revive a powerful addiction to Ms. Rowling’s brand of poignant truth.”

Jack Shepherd, Independent 
“Well, Harry Potter fans, you will be glad to know that J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, and John Tiffany have created a theatre production of immense wonder, one that is highly referential to Harry Potter stories past and is, above all, truly magical… To backtrack just a little; yes, a Malfoy really is the highlight of this play. Anthony Boyle — whose previous credits include Herons at the Lyric Theatre Belfast and a minor role in Game of Thrones — plays the awkward, geeky, and completely charming son of Draco Malfoy, his every appearance on stage generating huge amounts of laughter. It’s wonderful to watch as Boyle shows spectacular comic timing, as does Paul Thornley who plays the always amusing, somewhat underused, Ron Weasley.”

Quentin Letts, Daily Mail 
“Potter addicts will love it. J.K. Rowling is going to make (another) fortune. The West End’s ornate Palace Theatre, itself a little like Hogwarts, has a hit probably for years. But as the hours passed and the cloaked figures crouched with much penumbral melodrama, there were moments I could have done with a glug of gurdyroot infusion to keep me alert.”

Elysa Gardner, USA Today 
“But whatever change transpires in Cursed Child — by playwright Jack Thorne, working from an original story co-written with Rowling and the play’s director, John Tiffany — is far less essential than what has remained. That would be the smashing storytelling and layered but accessible emotional life that always fueled Harry’s saga, whatever feats of magic accompanied them on the page or screen… Perfection is impossible in this messy world, we’re assured by a familiar, beloved authority figure who pops up in Cursed Child; love is the best we can manage. For all the twists taken in Parts One and Two — several of which drew gasps at a recent pair of previews — this much is never in doubt.”

‘Harry Potter’ flashback: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and the other stars talk about romance and their thoughts on their futures: