Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: is the shorter, one-part play better?

·4 min read

Let’s face it: if you’re up for watching an almost four-hour play about a middle-aged Harry Potter learning to be a good dad, you are probably fine with an almost six-hour version too. But Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the theatrical sequel to Rowling’s books, has now been tightened from a two-part play to a single three-and-a-half-hour show with an interval.

The new version – which opened in Melbourne last week, replacing the two-parter that began in Australia in 2019 – not only helps pack more audiences in, but it is likely to appeal to those with small children, smaller budgets (a ticket now costs between $60-$220, which is what you used to pay for each part), or people travelling to see it in the smattering of theatres putting it on around the world. The one-parter has also recently launched in San Francisco and on Broadway in New York, and will soon open in Toronto and Tokyo; the longer version will remain, for now, in London and Hamburg.

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So what’s the short review of this shorter play? The Cursed Child still feels like Rowling based it on a cheese dream, but the plot remains in tact, if a touch too frenetic.

Without spoiling anything for those who haven’t seen either version, we follow Harry Potter’s adolescent son Albus as he starts at Hogwarts, where he attempts to escape the shadow of his famous father, now an overworked and overbearing adult. Albus and his BFF Scorpius Malfoy – the son of his father’s childhood enemy Draco – decide to travel back in time to change a crucial detail in Harry’s past, in order to improve the future.

So far, so plotty. But with the new cuts, The Cursed Child is now even plottier, and there is still a lot of it to steam through. Exposition is rattled off like we’re at the races, lighter fluid can be seen splashing across the stage as the actors twirl about, and scenes change at breakneck speed. (I felt for many of the actors who, towards the end, are literally sprinting on and off stage.) Somehow, there are even more magic tricks: no matter how many times you see this play, it’s hard to resist the joys of all the fiery explosions and optical illusions.

But gone is much of the background richness that, while not essential to the story, gave a better sense of Rowling’s world maturing. There was something interesting in seeing more of her boy hero as an adult man, trying to give his children a healthy childhood while reckoning with his undeniably traumatic one.

Some characters are dropped entirely and go unnoticed; others are reduced to the point that you wonder why they are included at all. (Albus’s older brother James is forgettable now; their sister Lily is entirely gone.) One major character, who is secretly a villain and was included in much of the original show, is now barely on stage at all, making their big reveal feel a little wet.

And yet, among all the cuts, one scene has noticeably been added: in the second half, Albus takes Harry aside to inform his father that he will have to accept Scorpius as “the most important person in my life”, a declaration made with weighted urgency and one that his father benignly accepts. The original show was criticised for “queerbaiting” Albus and Scorpius, but director John Tiffany – who is gay – then said it “would not [have] been appropriate” to make the nature of their relationship any clearer.

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Six years on, it is clear someone felt it was now appropriate. The sub is gone from the subtext; Scorpius’s female love interest in the original is now a platonic friend. Whether giving Harry a son who seems ever-so-slightly queer has anything to do with Rowling’s now public views on trans people, aired since the play debuted six years ago, is unknown and unlikely ever to be confirmed by anyone. Some wouldn’t even spot the change. What is inarguable is that someone thought the change was important.

Crucially, the abridged Cursed Child is not better for being shorter. You’ll still whoop for all the wonderful magic, but this distilled version reinforces just how much this play has always functioned as a greatest hits tour of all things Potter: there are time turners, dementors, the invisibility cloak, trips into the Forbidden Forest, magical duels and plenty of surprise reunions with dead characters. If you have been able to see the longer version, 10 points to you – but unless you’re a huge fan, there is little reason to spend even more hours on it.

  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is on at Melbourne’s Princess Theatre; tickets are on sale through to October 2022. It is also on London, New York, San Francisco, Hamburg and will soon open in Toronto and Tokyo

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