Watching Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in London’s West End
The show is over five hours long and leaves the audience in a magic-infused haze
The Dementor loomed over my head, menacingly swaying in the air, looking so lifelike, er, deathlike, that it gave me the shivers. Below it, two other papery apparitions were similarly suspended in mid-air.
They’re props, props, they won’t suck your soul, I consoled myself. But, how are they doing it?! Good Lord, how are they doing it?!
That was my abiding emotion the entire time I watched Harry Potter and the Cursed Child at London’s West End in late September. At over five hours, that’s a long time of sitting in wonder, incredulity and awe.
The eighth story in the Harry Potter cannon, written by JK Rowling, John Tiffany, and Jack Thorne, has been staged at Palace Theatre as a two-part play since 2016. The two parts can be watched on the same day, or on consecutive days. Between the matinee and evening shows, there’s a two-and-a-half-hour break, while each part has a 20-minute interval.
The theatre is usually booked out months in advance (https://www.harrypottertheplay.com). Right now, the website is accepting bookings till August 2020. So, by the time my London holiday was finalised, I knew I had little chance of finding a seat, at least an affordable one. As feared, the cheapest available for my dates were £80 per part, and £160 (around ₹15,000) for two tickets for a play was something even a diehard Potterhead like me baulked at.
Keep looking, said the website, for sometimes there are returns and late-release tickets. Sure enough, a few £15 seats became available. They were high up in the balcony, from where I feared the actors would appear like ants. “Take it, it’s more for the experience,” said my Potter-loving friends.
I’m glad I did. Because it was a theatre experience like none other. It’s not so much the plot, the cast or the acting, but the stage production that left me in a magic-infused haze. While the Harry Potter books kindle curiosity and the movies give wings to the imagination, the play stretches the meaning of possibility.
And the things that were happening on stage! From one wizard turning into another after drinking Polyjuice Potion right before our eyes to wands shooting coloured flames, people levitating to an enchanted bookshelf eating up and spitting out people -- the magic took the play to a whole new level of performance art.
Cursed Child picks up where Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left off, 19 years after Harry defeated Lord Voldemort. “The Boy Who Lived” is now The Man Who Lives with Family Problems. He is married to Ginny Weasley, and they have two boys and a girl.
The story revolves around their younger son, Albus Severus Potter, who is about to start at Hogwarts. He may be named after towering figures like Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape, and carry the famous Potter surname, but young Albus resents his legacy, and there are some serious father-son issues in the Potter household.
But nothing compares to the daddy issues of another young wizard -- Scorpius Malfoy. Poor boy, not only is he the son of the Death Eater, Draco Malfoy, he is rumoured to actually be the son of Voldemort himself!
Grown-up Harry and Hermione are no fun. His life as the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement can compete for yawns with Hermione Granger as Minister of Magic, though Ron Weasley retains his funny bone and Draco some of his entitled swag. But it is still such a joy to see our favourite trio and their arch enemy go back to Hogwarts, though this time they’re on the same team.
Read more: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The perfect sequel to an epic story
Because Albus and Scorpius have gone and become the best of friends. And they have run off from Hogwarts Express, giving the Trolley Witch the slip in a fantastic sequence of magic and motion that left me spellbound. The two boys have stolen a Time Turner (remember that little device from Prisoner of Azkaban that helped save Buckbeak’s life?), to prevent Cedric Diggory from dying, and thus altering the course of history.
Read more: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A stirring, complex tale
And just like that -- almost as if I was the one holding the Time Turner -- I was transported back to the Triwizard Tournament, to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, then to Harry’s mother Lily Potter saving his life by sacrificing her own, to good ol’ Hagrid coming to 4 Privet Drive and terrifying the daylights out of the Dursleys. Many of the iconic characters of the books make an appearance, Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall to Snape and the vile Dolores Umbridge, with the Time Turner allowing for all sorts of alternate storylines.
The play ends with a final showdown that is all flashing wands and flying wizards and all kinds of spectacular magic.
I chatted to the man selling ice cream inside the theatre during the second interval. There are 1,400 seats at Palace Theatre, and not one day has he seen a seat go empty.
And that is the true magic of Harry Potter.
Samhita Chakraborty is an independent journalist.