Does going back in time sounds like a good idea? Harry Potter fans might say yes. Take us back, we say, to the escapades that Ron, Hermione, and Harry carried out while they were students. In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the four-act drama now playing in London, we do go forward and back in time, not to the Hogwarts of Harry’s time but that of his middle son, Albus and best friend Scorpio Malfoy.
This rehearsal edition script contains Part One (Acts I & II) and Part Two (Acts III & IV) of the collaboration between J.K. Rowling, who supplied the original story, Jack Thorne, the playwright, and John Tiffany, director, in the original West End production. The play offers the “eighth story,” nineteen years later.
Relationships have changed in this meant-for-the-stage sequel. The published book is the rehearsal edition of the actors’ lines. Besides dialogue, readers will encounter stage directions, often more helpful and suggestive than the lean and plot-propelled story line. Here’s a fairly new world where Harry, as the father of three, struggles to understand his angry teen-age son, Albus.
We readers want Harry, who has suffered so much, to enjoy family life. But his challenge now means facing the deep rift between him and Albus, who resents being the child of the famous “boy who lived.” Now a student in Hogwarts, Albus want to forge his own identity through risky escapades that involve turning back time to right a perceived wrong done during the Triwizard Tournament where his father was a contestant.
The adults are not in charge. Harry feels the presentiment of danger as his scar once prickles him with pain. Hermione, now Minister of Magic, faces an upsurge in Voldemort’s allies, the trolls, giants, and werewolves. Events bring these characters together as Draco, once an archenemy, befriends the Ginny and Harry Potter as concerned parents at a crucial twist in the plot where Voldemort’s offspring raises a dark, new specter of power. Dumbledore can only offer advice as a memory visible in his talking picture.
For readers who speculate on how the series’ main characters mature, the play reveals self-descriptions of their earlier insecurities, now in retrospect as traits that once carried forward earlier plot elements. Draco confesses his adolescent loneliness. Harry acknowledges his resentment about early life at the Dursleys. There’s an edge to these reminisces. They round out the characters’ motivations even as they raise questions about Rowling’s effort to rewrite the story.
One theme, loneliness and companionship, follow Albus’ and Scorpius Malfoy’s struggles to protect their friendship. Another is the unavoidable conflict of parent and child, where Harry at the end admits that “I don’t understand your head, Albus — actually . . . you’re a teenager, I shouldn’t be able to . . .”. The closing scene of the play brings together the idealism of naming his children after his Hogwarts’ heroes and the reality of facing children who must go their own way.
In a sense, Rowling may be second-guessing the lives of her protagonists. At some points in the play, the dialogue seems forced, even didactic, as if the author wants to explain away gaps in the original story. For fans of the novels, this play does not lessen the bittersweet farewell we make to a magical world, now that the tale has come to an end. As an effort to prolong its aura, the play suggests how life goes on with much the same conflicts that Muggles face. But really, we can’t return to Hogwarts. For all our desires, the Time Turner doesn’t work for us any more than it does for these beloved characters.