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15 thoughts I had while reading 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child'

WARNING: I've tried not to go too heavy on major spoilers, but there are still references to the plot — and specific scenes — below. If you haven't seen the play or read the book yet, it might be worth holding off on this article for the time being.

LONDON — It's been a whopping nine years since J.K. Rowling's last Harry Potter book came out, but now we finally have a new story in our clutches.

Being the hopelessly obsessed Harry Potter fan that I am, I picked up a copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child — the script based on the play by Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany — at midnight on Sunday. Then I powered through the whole thing before going to sleep.

I've tried to sort a few of my excitably delirious thoughts about the script into some kind of vague order below.

It was pretty clear from early on in the play that J.K. Rowling and her collaborators wouldn't be pulling any punches with the Cursed Child story. By the end of Act One, Scene Four, things had already taken a fairly bleak turn: Albus Potter's Hogwarts experience is everything he feared it might be; a tired, middle-aged Harry is struggling to connect with his increasingly bitter son; and the off-stage death of a parent has already cast its shadow over the characters.

The rest of the story — although packed with plenty of dazzling, exciting and funny moments — is as dark in parts as its title suggests.

Just like he was in the original stories, Ron is an excellent comic relief character in the Cursed Child. He pops up in the play's second scene, and it isn't long before he's joking about the muggle driving test he managed to pass and riffing perfectly off Hermione and their daughter Rose (who definitely takes after her mother).

Later, in a scene in which Harry is worrying about some recurring scar pain, he diffuses the tension by suggesting Harry's scar might just be hurting because he's getting old.

When Harry responds with the appropriate sarcasm, Ron launches into an entertaining little speech about the trials of middle age:

"Honestly, every time I sit down now I make an 'ooof' noise. An 'ooof.' And my feet — the trouble I'm having with my feet — I could write songs about the pain my feet give me — maybe your scar is like that."

You wouldn't think a Malfoy would ever make for a good comic relief character, but Draco's son Scorpius really rises to the challenge. He's awkward, a bit self-deprecating, and at times entertainingly dry and deadpan — he's the younger generation's answer to Ron, and he's the perfect off-set to the more world-weary Albus.

From the play's early reviews, Scorpius' character looks set to be something of a show-stealer, and it's easy to see why when reading the script.

Reading Act One, Scene Four was the first time I realised just how awesome this play could look when brought to life on stage.

Describing itself as a "Transition Scene," the scene opens with the following stage directions:

The following few pages of script are a whirlwind of Sorting Hats, Quidditch and awkward train platform conversations that quickly cover Albus Potter's first two years at Hogwarts. It works well in the script and I think it'll work even better on stage.

And this is just the first example of time being well-handled in the story. Without wanting to give too much away, it's a pretty central theme (remember the time-turner in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban?) and the script handles it well throughout.

One of the things I was most looking forward to about the Cursed Child was the chance to re-visit some of my all-time favourite book characters and see what they're up to now. But I was also a bit apprehensive — what if their middle-aged versions felt off somehow, or their dialogue wasn't quite right?

I needn't have worried. The lines given to Harry, Ron, Hermione and Draco don't feel the slightest bit forced or unnatural — from Hermione nagging Harry about paperwork to Draco mocking the pain Harry feels in his scar, their relationships and exchanges in the play are spot on. 

The play is peppered with dream sequences which act as both nostalgic trips down memory lane, and creepy reminders of the darkness that hangs over Harry in his middle age.

In Act One, Scene Eight, we're treated to a dream of Hagrid battering down the door of the Dursley's Hut-on-the-Rock, chastising Uncle Vernon and then revealing to Harry who he really is. Just as we're becoming immersed in the memory, though, things take a turn for the creepy.

This is one of about three similarly themed sequences that pop up throughout the play, and which will probably be great gasp moments for the audience (I don't want to give too much away, but let's just say the theatre's surround-sound will get some nice use).

The play's script is chock full of ambitious set pieces. In Act One alone there's a scene that takes place on the roof of The Hogwarts Express, while the description of St Oswald's Home for Old Witches and Wizards in a later scene sounds like a feast for the eyes:

That description's evocative and fun to read, but imagine what's it's going to look like on a colourful, noisy stage.

The play's creators clearly haven't let their medium restrict them in any way. In other words, there's absolutely no shortage of magic and spells in the Cursed Child.

There are charms, there are duels, there are characters travelling through the Floo Network, and there are even some glorious-sounding instances of Polyjuice transformation (I have no idea how that's going to be done in the play, but I can't wait to see it).

The quest that the play's central duo set out on is like a whistle-stop tour of all the original Harry Potter stories. That's no exaggeration, either; there are probably references to each and every previous Harry Potter quest crammed into the Cursed Child: there's unlocking charms, riddle-solving, Dementor-battling, secret passages, disguises, wand fights, time travel, and plenty of the type of fast-paced adventure that made the books so much fun to read.

In this way, the Cursed Child works on a bunch of different levels — it'll be easy, fast-paced fun for people who aren't that familiar with the franchise, while hard-core fans will relish the absolute nostalgia-fest that's cleverly contained within the story.

Dumbledore may be dead, but — as we learned in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — that doesn't stop him from popping up and sharing some pearls of wisdom now and again.

The former Hogwarts headmaster was always my favourite character in the books, so it's a very welcome surprise to see him appear in the play — even if it is only in talking portrait form.

Again, I don't want to give too much away, but it's safe to say that the play's storyline leaves plenty of room for some fairly unexpected cameos.

Time travel, it turns out, may be quite a dangerous activity, but it's also a great way of incorporating some familiar faces into the action.

The shadow of Voldemort is constantly hanging over the play — he's there in Harry's dreams, in the aching scar, in the rumours that he may or may not have had a child before he died... and that's just for starters.

One thing that reading the script really drummed home for me is just how powerful an antagonist Voldemort is — when just the hint of his voice or his memory are enough to immediately build tension and give you the creeps, you know he's a character no one's about to forget in a hurry.

Although Scorpius Malfoy is probably the most welcome surprise when it comes to new characters, his father is comfortably the most welcome surprise from the older generation (and for anyone wondering about that ponytail, fear not: it does get directly addressed by Ron at one point).

His terse interactions with Harry at the beginning of the play suggest he's still the same arrogant pain he was at Hogwarts, but as the Cursed Child progresses we see a whole different side to him. 

One of Draco's most revealing and poignant lines comes when Harry asks him what he wanted to do when he was growing up.

"Quidditch," he responds. "But I wasn't good enough. Mainly I wanted to be happy."

In many ways, the script for the Cursed Child nails it. The original Harry Potter series (in my mind, at least) is a near-perfect and surely very daunting act to follow. But the play manages it. Jack Thorne, John Tiffany and Rowling have managed to create an exciting new adventure, handle the old cast of characters brilliantly and introduce some excellent new ones who immediately feel right at home in the saga.

Despite all that, though, it's not quite the same as reading a novel. Inevitably we don't get the same level of detail or description as we did in the books, and although the dialogue and stage directions are spot on it still makes for a very different experience.

Maybe that's OK, though.

Ultimately, the Cursed Child is meant to be watched on a stage rather than read as a book. The first reviews talk of some breath-taking special effects, and after reading some of the ambitious stage directions I really can't wait to see what they look like in a theatre.

It's a frustrating situation in a lot of ways — the play is expensive, it's currently sold out until May 2017, and there are no plans at the moment to take the production around the world — but hopefully, in time, the show will make its way overseas.

For now, we have the script. And despite the fact it isn't an eighth book in the traditional sense, it's still a thrilling next chapter in a saga that I don't want to end.

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